Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth is a must-watch for anyone searching for a bit of warmth. It’s a coming-of-age story that deserves to be praised for how gorgeously the story’s themes nudge viewers towards appreciating the little moments as much as the big ones.
Starring Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Vanessa Burghardt, Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, Raúl Castillo, Evan Assante, and more, Cha Cha Real Smooth follows 22-year-old Andrew moving from trying to save up money to join his girlfriend in Barcelona to learning that his present-day moments matter and the people in his life twice as much. If the film asks us to do one thing, it’s to give characters the grace to be messy, agitated, and imperfect. It asks us to remember what we were like at 22 and how the world seemed to orbit around our ambitions and uncertainties. It’s for the kids whose bad attitudes resulted from their good intentions and those who consistently try to make the world a little bit better even though they have nothing figured out themselves.
Raiff is masterful in the whirlwind of emotions he conveys throughout as the film’s writer, director, and star. In the subtext of the film’s layers, therein lies most of its heart and the warmth that’s exuding from the wreckages of all sorts of unique relationships. This film is a love story tied directly to the most challenging years of our lives while endorsing the importance of compassion.
For a story that centers around various relationships, despite how wrong some of them should feel, none are. Instead, there’s a warmth and innocence to the connections made, especially for Andrew (Raiff) and Domino (Johnson). While she’s engaged and the woman other moms attending the bat mitzvahs abhor, Domino’s reservations and her heart lie entirely with her daughter, wanting to ensure that she’s safe and comfortable at every party.
The connection between Andrew and Domino flows seamlessly as he helps her through a miscarriage in one of the most authentic displays of human kindness I’ve seen in a film. As a character who verbalizes how much he cares about his mother and her well-being, Andrew extends so much of that adoration towards other women, showcasing a type of admirable respect that we all still lack in the real world. The film not only gives women agency, but it’s a stunning showcase for how men should behave.
Thereby, though their relationship doesn’t end with the kind of happy ending romance fans are likely hoping for, Cha Cha Real Smooth slides to a heartwarming conclusion that leads two people towards what they truly desire. It might not seem like Domino’s fiance is suitable for her, and there’s a plethora we could look into with her storyline, but the film makes it clear that she makes a choice she isn’t forced into. She’s not only safe around Joseph, but her daughter is too, and the film makes it apparent how much that sense of warmth matters even when it might not be as magical as what people are hoping for.
But as much as this film explores a romance between two people at different places in life, it’s also a lovely look into mothers and their children. Lola is an autistic teenage girl who’s often the victim of bullying, and the story gives Vanessa Burghardt incredible beats to work with, easily making her the heart of the film. We might be getting to know her through the lenses of other characters, but the fabric of the film shines through her grace and wisdom. She is the heart we’re meant to learn from, and she’s the character for whom Domino’s growth continually stems from. We understand this notion through a quiet conversation between Andrew and Domino, but it’s what we see clear as day through Andrew’s mother as well.
A large part of the film’s appeal is how openly it dives into essential conversations and how organically it does so. Despite the heavier undertones of mental health struggles, the film is never once challenging to watch. Instead, its openness and vulnerability in addressing battles will likely make viewers feel a little less alone and a little more understood.
Andrew’s kindness towards Lola and his little brother anchors the film with a vital message that vulnerability matters more than anything else for growth. The story focuses on attachments and how human connections, whether temporarily romantic or entirely platonic, have healing effects unlike anything else in the world.
In his search for a purpose after graduating from college, Andrew extends much of his warmth towards his little brother as well with advice that’s both misleading and honest at the same time. Intentions are a lodestone in this film, and despite any hiccups, the story looks into how small moments shape people as well as the people around them. There’s a particular moment where David tells Andrew he’s going to miss him when he moves out, and it might just be one of the most wholesome conversations throughout.
It’s not always easy to admit how much someone’s had an impact on you, but Andrew’s openness and his choice to tell people how he feels allows them the same sense of safety to communicate right back. Amidst all the transparency, agency is a prevalent presence throughout the film for all characters, allowing viewers to understand the importance of not only extending kindness towards people but approaching them with patience. It dives into bullying, mental health, and heartbreak alongside everything else.
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Cooper Raiff’s script is honest, wholesome, and beautifully vulnerable. Raiff’s performances are as astounding as his warm filmmaking techniques, and every character moves seamlessly towards satisfying places of understanding. Cha Cha Real Smooth digs into uncomfortable corridors to bring light to the edges of heartaches, and in doing so, Raiff brings to our screens the type of film that’s bound to leave a mark.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is now streaming on Apple TV+.