Practically every year at the largest American independent film festival, Sundance, there is a film that completely fools the audience, and to some extent critics, and in 2022 it was this humorous drama with a somewhat unusual name. “Cha Cha Real Smooth” won the audience award at Sundance and was immediately bought by the streaming service Apple for a cool $15 million. Although at first it seems that it is just one of a series of typical American independent humorous-romantic dramas that play on the standard formula, the screenwriter, director, producer and main actor of the film Cooper Raiff has prepared some surprises that elevate “Cha Cha Real Smooth” above average.
At the age of just 23, this young filmmaker also presented himself at the South by Southwest festival with the romantic – humorous drama “Shithouse”, for which he won the main prize there, even though it was almost a student film. With this, he obviously bought himself a ticket to a breakthrough on a bigger stage, and he successfully used that by recording an extremely complex, warm, at times and humorous dramedy, which rarely a 25-year-old can boast of. And this youth is Raiff’s obvious advantage in making films about young people compared to films about young people made by people who are 50 or 60 years old and who have probably already forgotten what it’s like to be young.
Raiff remembers that very well and brilliantly captures all those youthful insecurities, confusion, naivety and other things that come when you’ve just finished college and you’re still not sure what you’re going to do with life. His Andrew has just returned home to the suburbs of New Jersey after graduating and his only goal is to raise enough money to go to Barcelona for his girlfriend who is still studying there. He works temporarily in a fast food restaurant in a local shopping center, and when one evening he accompanies his 12-year-old brother to the Bar Mitzvah celebration, or as the Jewish festival is called, some new business opportunities will open up for him.
Since Andrew will be the one who will start the party intended for the kids and he will be the first to go on the dance floor and lead everyone behind him, the parents of other teenagers will decide to hire him as a party starter for the celebrations. However, already at the first such party, he will meet a young mother who is at least ten years older than him, Domino (Dakota Johnson) with her autistic daughter Lola. His natural behavior and sense of humor, simplicity and youthful sincerity will attract even the withdrawn Domino, but still on a different level, because Andrew will probably talk about things as only people of that age can. Although it is obvious that Andrew has totally fallen in love with the melancholic and precocious Domino, at the same time a friendship will develop between them and even though at one point it seems that something more could come of it, it will not be easy.
Don’t worry, “Cha Cha Real Smooth” will not go down the path of the classic sugary Hollywood romantic comedy, and this movie brings many surprises, the biggest of which is that the characters are complex and authentic. A nice chemistry between the two main actors was also achieved, and Raiff clearly has the ability to break up dramatic situations when they become too serious, solidly with humor and frivolity. It was a very warm, unpretentious film that is not banal and that shows all those youthful ecstasies, delusions and craziness in a realistic and honest way, in which Raiff really showed that he is an interesting author and a talent that could become something of him in the near future.