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‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’: Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson break hearts with their indie coming-of age comedy

‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’: Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson break hearts with their indie coming-of age comedy

‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’: Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson break hearts with their indie coming-of age comedy
May 06
12:00 2022

AUSTIN, Texas – Director Cooper Raiff timidly walks across Paramount Theatre’s stage with co-stars Dakota Johnson and Vanessa Burghardt and faces a crowd of 1,000 cheering South by Southwest attendees. His coming-of-age indie film, “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” has just been shown on the big screen for the first time ever and it’s clear he’s touched the audience as evident by the tears movie-goers try to brush away as the lights go up.

This moment has been a long time coming for Raiff. Despite being his second directorial work, the SXSW premiere is the first Raiff has had the opportunity of attending. His directorial debut “Shithouse” was set to premiere in person at SXSW in 2020 before the festival was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, “Cha Cha Real Smooth” was meant to debut in person at Sundance Film Festival in January but was moved online due to the Omnicom variant.

Raiff’s film, in which he stars as main character Andrew, is set to release on Apple TV+ on June 17, 2022. The comedy-drama depicts a sequence of bar mitzvah parties Andrew is hired to work as a “party starter.” Andrew, freshly graduated from college and temporarily living at his parent’s house, is still trying to figure out what direction he wants to go in life. He’s just been broken up with by his college girlfriend, who decided to move abroad, and he’s determined to save up enough money to move with her by working at a dead-end fast-food restaurant called “Meat Sticks.”

It isn’t until he befriends a young mother named Domino (Johnson) and her neurodivergent daughter, Lola (Burghardt) at one of his bar mitzvah parties that Andrew starts rethinking his plan. He quickly becomes engrossed in their lives after Domino offers him a sitter job and the tension between them grows as they struggle to set boundaries in their relationship.

The film is reminiscent of Marc Webb’s “500 Days of Summer” in the way it explores the theme of unrequited love. Johnson’s Domino is comparable to Zooey Deschanel’s Summer with her chill, unemotional attitude, and Andrew, emotionally immature, is a much more likable version of Tom. Like Tom and Summer in “500 Days of Summer,” as the film progresses Andrew is able to break down Domino’s walls.

Arguably one of the most well-crafted scenes in the film is one where Andrew and Domino have an intimate midnight conversation, leaning over her kitchen counter as they share popsicles. The chemistry Johnson and Raiff have in the scene is electric. It is this scene where we finally see Domino’s unemotional exterior break and Johnson’s talent really shines.

At times, “Cha Cha Real Smooth” admittedly feels just like any other indie film with its low-key approach to filmmaking. What sets this film apart, however, is its acting.

Raiff truly steals the show. His performance as the suave, charismatic Andrew was stunning. It’s easy to tell how naturally funny Raiff is from his bits on screen to his little quips during the Q&A portion of the SXSW screening. The interactions the typically charismatic Andrew has with the entirely-too-honest Lola result in some of the most comedic bits in the film. She isn’t afraid of calling him out on his words and he isn’t afraid to treat her like an adult.

The true breakout star of “Cha Cha Real Smooth,”  however, is undeniably Burghardt. Raiff knew from the moment she auditioned that he wanted her to play Lola and even rewrote the entire script so she could play her. Burghardt’s addition to the cast helped set the film apart from countless other lifeless indie heartbreakers. Had Raiff not rewritten the script, “Cha Cha Real Smooth” most likely wouldn’t have had the same impact. She truly makes the film.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” will pull at your heartstrings, as any good coming-of-age film should. It is a must-watch for rom-com lovers everywhere and anyone who has even a little bit of heart.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” will be shown at select theaters until available to stream on Apple Tv+  June 17, 2022.

Maddie’s final review: 4/5

Featured Image: Director Cooper Raiff (left), Dakota Johnson, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante and Odeya Rush introduce the Texas premiere of “Cha Cha Real Smooth” on March 19, 2022. Photo by Madeleine Moore

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Madeleine Moore

Madeleine Moore

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