The Movie Waffler SXSW 2022 Review - CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH | The Movie Waffler

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SXSW 2022 Review - CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH

Cha Cha Real Smooth review
A college graduate turned bar mitzvah DJ falls for a single mother.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Cooper Raiff

Starring: Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Vanessa Burghardt, Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, Raúl Castillo, Odeya Rush

Cha Cha Real Smooth poster

Still in his mid-twenties, writer/director/star Cooper Raiff has already established himself a distinctive screen persona in the two feature films he's written, directed and starred in. His feature debut Shithouse saw Raiff play a college freshman dogged with homesickness whose heart is broken when the girl he spends a wonderful night with proceeds to ignore him. His second feature, Cha Cha Real Smooth, isn't a sequel to Shithouse, but it might well be, with Raiff playing a very similar character. Once again he's essaying an innocent nice guy who can't understand why we can't have nice things.

Here Raiff is Andrew, a 22-year-old stuck in limbo after finishing college. He wants to join his girlfriend in Barcelona but needs to raise the funds to join her there. This sees him taking a fast food job while supplementing his income as a "party starter" for the never-ending bar mitzvahs of his local Jewish community.

Cha Cha Real Smooth review

Raiff uses bar and bat mitzvahs the way Richard Curtis used weddings and a funeral, with the narrative progressing a little more with each function. It's at one such event that Andrew meets thirtysomething single mother Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her teenage autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Impressed by Andrew's ability to bring Lola out of her shell (unlike others, Andrew never infantilises Lola), Domino hires him as a babysitter. When Andrew helps Domino with what initially appears a simple "female issue" but is revealed to be far more tragic, the two are brought together, initiating a "will they, won’t they" narrative.


Andrew is completely smitten by Domino (as will you, the viewer), but the older woman is engaged to be married to a lawyer, Joseph (Raúl Castillo), and though she admits that Andrew makes her feel good in a way nobody else can, she continually makes excuses not to engage in a relationship with the younger man. Andrew has the innocent worldview of a child, asking the sort of awkward questions adults can't answer. Ironically, he finds himself on the other end of this dynamic when his kid brother seeks his advice on dating, and Andrew is force to admit that he doesn't really know jack.


Cha Cha Real Smooth boasts the sort of premise that could have fuelled an '80s John Cusack movie or a '90s Adam Sandler comedy. Thankfully Raiff has opted for the former, and his film resembles some lost Cameron Crowe rom-com from 1987. Say Anything would appear to be a major influence, with Raiff's Andrew sharing a similar mindset with Cusack's character, i.e. he's content to put his own life on hold to make the woman he loves happy. It's a sentimental notion, but Raiff never allows things to become sappy. It takes a hell of an ego to write a part like this for yourself, in which you're essentially the world's nicest guy, but Raiff has the charm to pull it off. Like his character, Raiff's film wears its heart on its sleeve and provides a refreshingly warm breeze in these snarky times.

Cha Cha Real Smooth review

What's notable and admirable about Cha Cha Real Smooth is how, unlike so many modern American comedies, the movie has a timeless quality. There are no gags around specifically modern preoccupations. Rather the movie is invested in a theme that will forever resonate, the struggle to find a soulmate, and the even greater struggle that begins once you've found them. You could show this movie to an audience in 1982 or 2082 and they'd understand what Raiff is interrogating here.

Andrew self-deprecatingly refers to himself as a dumb kid throughout, but as a filmmaker Raiff is as smart as any to arrive in recent years. And like the smartest filmmakers, he understands that creating great cinema can often be as simple as writing a couple of good parts and having two very charismatic people make googly eyes at one another on screen.

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