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Cha Cha Real Smooth

Dakota Johnson stars in a sweet little comedy with all the right ingredients thrown in in order to please the Sundance crowds

Cooper Raiff’s second film is a nice, safe and conventional crowd-pleaser. The director also wrote the script and stars in it. It’s a very endesaring story about a this 20-something loser type (Raiff) at a crossroads in his life. He’s just out of college, and ends up becoming a sort of party-starter for bar mitzvahs. At one event he meets a young mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson), who has an autistic daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghart, who is herself autistic – brownie points to the filmmaker for that). He becomes friendly with both of them, helping Lola climb out of her shell. There’s clearly some chemistry between Andrew and Domino, but she also has a fiancé who is out of town a lot.

It’s not the most original movie you’ve ever seen, but – to its credit – it’s very charming. Raiff is an engaging actor, as is Johnson. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in a film, but I will be checking out his previous movie Shithouse (2020), which was retitled Freshman Year in the UK (Raiff also directed, wrote and starred in his first film). Raiff’s character is fallible: he gets drunk on the job and almost gets into a fight with some kids. All the three protagonists feel very real, with personalities that radiate from the screen. That’s a real accomplishment for a second film, and lets you buy into what is still at times a relatively pedestrian movie. Burghart’s role is handled tastefully, with her coming off as a rounded human being instead of falling into some of the usual traps and cliches.

There’s not a lot of conflict, even when Domino’s fiancé comes into the picture. As it turns out, there’s an understanding between him and Andrew. Instead, the story is built around the characters and their interactions. The film gets a little predictable and doused in saccharine at the end, but it’s got a big heart. It makes for a low-key, comfortable indie movie. Filmed in and around the Pittsburgh area, it’s not a flashy-looking film. Instead, it’s shot in a more austere fashion. It focuses on characters and emotion rather than aesthetics.

Cha Cha Real Smooth is the runaway success story of this year’s Sundance. It is a typical “Sundance movie”: the scenario is believable scenario, the characters and palpable, and it’s also very funny. Thoroughly enjoyable during its runtime of 107 minutes. The film has been sold for $15 million to AppleTV+.

By Ian Schultz - 30-01-2022

Ian Schultz is a film writer based in Leeds, where he runs Psychotronic Cinema. He has been writing about films for about eight years, with articles and reviews appearing in Little White Lies and Live...

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