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SFFILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Now coming in with his second feature, Cha Cha Real Smooth, writer/director Cooper Raiff is quickly becoming this generation’s John Hughes. In Sh!thouse, Cooper was a young college student trying to break out of his shell and find his place in the world outside his family. In this comedic drama, he plays Andrew, a post-college graduate struggling to find his way into adulthood. Raiff has an all-star cast supporting him on this adventure.

Andrew is a young man with a retail job selling “meat on a stick” and a girlfriend who wishes he would take life more seriously. When she moves to Barcelona, Andrew can only think of earning enough money to join her… but she’s not all that excited about the prospect. Soon, the determined Andrew moves in with his family: mother (Leslie Mann), brother David (Evan Assante), and step-father Greg (Brad Garrett).

While taking David to his friend’s bar mitzvah, Andrew employs his skills as a party starter to get the young teens on the dance floor, including the autistic Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Seeing Lola dancing with Andrew impresses Lola’s mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson), who hires him as a sitter for the girl. A flirtation begins between Andrew and Domino until he finds out Domino is engaged to Joseph (Raul Castillo). As Andrew continues to amaze Domino with how he brings the best out of Lola, Andrew and Domino begin to fall for one another as soulmates.

Cha Cha Real Smooth is a series of reflections on life. What does it mean to be happy? Where do you find happiness when your life is not one of your choosing? Can you find joy with the cards life has dealt? In this way, Andrew reminds me a lot of Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything. Andrew is a nice guy… like really nice. But, his only direction in life is dictated by the woman with whom he falls in love, and ultimately he needs to take his next step in life seriously.

“…Andrew and Domino begin to fall for one another as soulmates.”

Writer/director/lead Cooper Raiff is the star of the show. Now in his second film, it’s like he’s using feature film as a personal journal about growing up. His characterization of Andrew is different than Alex from Sh!thouse but oddly feels like an evolution. Andrew is at that point in life where he has to cross into the world of adulthood and independence, and part of that journey is casting aside everything that we are dependent on, including a romance with a slightly older woman in Domino.

Raiff’s supporting cast, Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, and Brad Garrett, elevate the material. Though an affair appears to be budding with Andrew, Dakota ensures that Domino remains the adult in the relationship. Mann’s portrayal of her character’s struggle with bipolar disorder is spot on, and Garrett remains one of the most underrated dramatic actors in Hollywood today.

My attraction to the work of Cooper Raiff comes in the fact that he has something to say in both Sh!thouse and Cha Cha Real Smooth. I’m always attracted to film that makes me think about life while knowing that someone else in the world gets it. It’s easy to fall in love and act purely on emotions. But, as human beings, the instant gratification of love is fleeting, and the filmmaker explores that part in us that needs more out of a relationship, which often means sacrificing what is easy today. Raiff is a filmmaker you need to follow.

Cha Cha Real Smooth screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival and the 2022 SFFilm Festival.

Cha Cha Real Smooth (2022)

Directed and Written: Cooper Raiff

Starring: Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

Cha Cha Real Smooth Image

"…a filmmaker you need to follow."

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