2022 Milwaukee Film Festival: Day 11 “Cha Cha Real Smooth”

CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH won the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance and came to the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival with a lot of hype. A packed crowd at the Oriental Theatre attested to the across the board interest. Really the only question was “Does CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH live up to the hype or not?”

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Cooper Raiff writes, directs, and stars as Andrew, a fresh college graduate who’s experiencing post-college ennui. A good job at a decent non-profit eludes him and he’s stuck working in a food court. His college girlfriend has moved to graduate school and Barcelona and a new boyfriend. He’s sleeping on the floor in his little brother’s room in the house shared by his mother (Leslie Mann) and her boyfriend (Brad Garrett). In other words, life is in a holding pattern.

That is until while chaperoning his little brother (Evan Assante) to a bar mitzvah, Andrew through boredom finds a talent at getting people on the dance floor and having a good time. That leads to job opportunities at other bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs. It also introduces him to a mother Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) with whom Andrew immediately hits it off. With the chemistry between himself and Domino leaning in a more romantic direction, despite her having an age appropriate fiancé .

Yes, this is fairly familiar territory. It’s a coming of age story with the realization that adults have problems too. What makes this iteration of the story notable is that it’s told with an earnestness and empathy that stays grounded enough to not descend into sappiness. Cooper Raiff is an appealing, puppy dog of an actor who projects warmth, good humor, and just plain kindness at every turn. Andrew’s more comfortable interacting with his 13 year old brother than practically anyone else and that childish innocence is part of his charm. He can say the what’s on his mind at every turn and it’s merely direct, not oversharing.

That ultimate innocence makes the quasi-romance with Dakota Johnson both believable and keeps it in appropriate territory. Dakota Johnson plays a part that could be just a type, an object to be won, but she elevates that material and makes Domino a complicated, woman with her own needs and agenda. Even when the writing makes romance very unlikely, such as the traumatic events of one night, Dakota Johnson overcomes some of the logic and emotional leaps with aplumb. She’s alluring, brittle, and charming all at once. It’s real evidence that she has plenty of acting chops to go along with her natural beauty. She elevates every scene she’s in.

CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH doesn’t go anywhere that you don’t expect, but it’s sure footed the whole way. It doesn’t have the bravura or sharpness of something like THE GRADUATE, but it’s also clear why it was an audience favorite. Perhaps it doesn’t quite live up to the hype, and it certainly isn’t the next CODA, but it’s a charming, funny coming of age story with an appealing cast. It’s sure to find an appreciative audience.

CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH is primed for a release on APPLE TV+ on June 17, 2022. The 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 21, 2022 until May 5, 2022. You can purchase tickets at mkefilm.org.