Written By Darren
Rating 4.5 out of 5
Cha Cha Real Smooth is one of the most enjoyable and honest coming of age stories I have seen in recent memory, thanks to wonderful writing from Cooper Raiif and outstanding performances from both him and Dakota Johnson.
Raiff burst onto the scene in 2020 with his feature film debut film Shithouse which won the Grand Jury Award for Narrative Feature at SXSW, but his latest film could put him on the fast track to the Oscars. For his second film, Raiff tells the story of a young college graduate who has moved back home and begins working as a party starter for bar/bat mitzvahs, where he meets a young mother and her teenage daughter and strikes up an unique friendship with both of them. Normally, coming of age stories in Hollywood follow a predictable pattern, and while they can be done well, you can call every beat of the story. Though, Raiff finds true honesty in his film and does not hesitate to stray from preconceived notions Hollywood has for the genre. His film does not change the storyline that has been populating this genre for years, but instead ignores the grand gestures of Hollywood and over-dramatization, purely capturing life on film.
Raiff’s character Andrew is directionless after finishing his degree, as so many of us are, trying to find his path in life as he moves back home with his mother and step-father. Andrew is instantly relatable, as all viewers can relate to his struggles as we have all been there at some point, which leads him to meeting Johnson’s character. From there, a completely organic and realistic friendship blossoms that never falls into a single category, instead allowing both characters to find what they need in each other. Even the story's ending, which is cathartic and honest in how it leaves the character by not tying everything up perfectly, instead leaving the audience with life unfolding for Andrew but now with the lessons to continue forward in life and find his path. It is a cathartic ending that is sure to get you feeling emotional in the best way possible, as you are treated to a beautiful end to Andrew’s character arc over the course of the film. In terms of writing, Raiff absolutely perfects the story and the characters, which could have him in the running for awards season for Best Original Screenplay. His direction throughout the film is impeccable, never missing a beat, allowing everything to unfold organically between the cast and for this story to take on a life of its own that most films cannot achieve.
Though, it is the performances that are the highlight of the film. Raiff himself is wonderful as Andrew, capturing this caring and wonderful young man just trying to find his path in life. Johnson continues to prove herself as one of the best young actresses working as Domino, the young mother that Andrew befriends in the film. With a quiet yet beautiful performance, Johnson delivers an emotionally raw performance that instantly bonds you to her. With every scene, you feel her pain and struggle as she raises her young daughter with down syndrome while questioning what she wants in a relationship. When paired with Raiff, the two of them are phenomenal and bring such life and joy to this film. Whether it be the romantic chemistry between them or the way they command your attention in a scene, Raiff and Johnson play off each perfectly and make the film. I could easily see Johnson entering the acting race at the end of the year, because this is easily the best performance of her career to date!
Newcomer Vanessa Burghardt is outstanding as Johnson’s daughter Lola, bubbling with personality and displaying a true talent alongside Raiff and Johnson. Though, the biggest surprise of the film is Leslie Mann, as she was incredible and I did not think she had it in her. Mann is too often cast in films by her husband, Judd Apatow, which allow her to crack jokes, but don’t give her much depth as an actress. However, as Andrew’s mother Mann is both hilarious but also finds a beautiful depth as a mother finally feeling loved and supported while trying to help her son find the same in life. I truly did not think that Mann could give such a wonderful performance, but she has proven me wrong and I could not be happier as I truly do enjoy her as an actress.
It’s impossible not to instantly fall in love with Cha Cha Real Smooth, so believe the hype! Not only is it bound to be one of the best films of the entire year, it solidifies Cooper Raiff as one of the most promising young voices in Hollywood whose career needs to be closely watched, because he will be winning an Oscar one day! Beautifully written by Cooper Raiff who finds an emotional honesty in this coming of age story that most films strive to find but cannot, combined with a career best performance from the magnificent Dakota Johnson, Cha Cha Real Smooth is one film that you cannot afford to miss as it is waiting for you to fall in love with it!