Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)
Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)

Genre: Dramatic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: June 17th, 2022 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Cooper Raiff Actors: Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, Evan Assante, Vanessa Burghardt, Raul Castillo, Odeya Rush




‘m in love, mom.” 12-year-old Andrew is smitten with the dance lead (Kelly O’Sullivan) at a party, but she’s simply too old for him. Nevertheless, he works up the courage to ask her out, even though rejection is inevitable. 10 years later and just out of college, Andrew (Cooper Raiff) plans to follow his girlfriend Maya (Amara Pedroso Saquel) to Barcelona, but that could be a mere drunken aspiration – and an unlikely, prohibitively expensive option. Currently, he contends with his crummy job at fast food mall restaurant Meat Sticks, while also dealing with his unsupportive stepdad (Brad Garrett), his mother’s (Leslie Mann) social woes, and helping his little brother David (Evan Assante) to be cooler at bar/bat mitvahs. “Girls love good dancers.”

At one event in particular, Andrew designates himself as the party starter, coaxing preteens to get out onto the dance floor, and ensuring that everyone has a great time. In the process, he meets Domino (Dakota Johnson), the mother of autistic Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), which could kick off a fruitful relationship (once again, however, involving an older woman); plus, he’s inspired by a swarm of Jewish mothers to start his own business as a motivational dancer – dubbed the Jig Conductor – to liven up all the upcoming religious celebrations across New Jersey. But he’ll have to learn the basics of dealing with irate customers and diminutive bullies if he wants to achieve commercial success, while navigating the complexities of love if he wants to win over Domino.

“I feel very comfortable with you.” Although the characters aren’t terribly complicated, they’re exceptionally authentic and likable. Despite the commonplace slice-of-life, coming-of-age formula, the personas are addictive; no matter how trivial their interactions, there’s something thoroughly watchable about them, particularly with the affable lead, who battles the highly relatable depressions of job hunts, thoughts of missed opportunities (or having peaked too early or accomplishing less than peers), and the futility of pursuing a woman whose feelings are ambiguously requited (or sporadically unavailable). Plus, the manners in which these roles speak about and seek sexual involvement is notably modern and progressive, despite the background of religious ceremonies and gatherings. Yet in many ways, Domino is the classic, unattainable woman, while Andrew is the impossibly generous, unfamiliarly well-adjusted young man with an equally rare, positive relationship with both his mother and sibling – very much the stuff of college-age romantic drama films.

“I want to be firmly planted in adult-world.” The love story is ultimately the most engaging component, made convincing through superb performances. It certainly helps that the dialogue is natural, kind-hearted, and sweet; adversity comes not from typical villains but from angst and the poor decisions stemming from that anxiety, usually wrapped up in revealing conversations. Love can be as overwhelming and emotionally shattering as it is inspiring. Also of note is the brotherly bonding, putting to shame the comparably-themed “The Tender Bar,” which failed to be even half as genuine as the connections presented here. The journey doesn’t end up being much more than a pleasant, funny, intermittently strained episode of emotional pursuit and heartbreak (both romantic and platonic), but it’s quite impressive that Cooper Raiff, with his knack for recreating a veritable young-adult milieu, not only starred in, but also produced, wrote, and directed the film.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10