“Cha Cha Real Smooth” is the type of independent film that mainstream audiences love, and that’s okay. In a year where the Sundance Film Festival served up a long list of mediocrity and disappointment, it’s no wonder that this movie stood out. It’s perfectly fine, but not flat-out terrific. It’s definitely better than most other projects that were featured at Sundance this year.
Andrew (Cooper Raiff) is aimless. He’s 22 and still living at home in New Jersey with his mom (Leslie Mann), stepdad (Brad Garrett), and little brother (Evan Assante), working a menial day job at a fast food stand at the mall. Andrew decides to moonlight as a party starter, finding mild success working the Bar and Bat Mitzvah circuit. His life changes when he meets a mother named Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). She hires him as a sitter, and Andrew begins pining for the woman almost instantly, convinced he is in love.
Writer-director Cooper Raiff has a knack for writing dialogue that is grounded in truth. Here he takes a crack at drafting a modern day romantic story about finding love and learning how to love, but it’s not very insightful. There are some terrific moments (especially towards the end of the film), but the script never made me care about the characters.
Andrew is an unlikable loser, a screw-up, and kind of a jerk. Raiff’s screen persona is extremely annoying, which doesn’t help things. I also didn’t believe any of the romantic elements. These are two people who have no business being together unless they want to hop on the fast track to an unhealthy relationship. This is (thankfully) addressed in the film’s final third, which is by far the strongest, and most authentic, part of the story.
“Cha Cha Real Smooth” is slow moving and isn’t very interesting, but at least it feels heartfelt. The film finishes with an uplifting, positive ending that’s irresistibly upbeat, and optimistic messaging like this is pure catnip for indie film audiences.
By: Louisa Moore