Comic romance a 'Real Smooth' parable for the power of kindness

  • Floundering college grad Andrew (writer/director Cooper Raiff) falls for a single mom (Dakota Johnson) in the comic romance "Cha Cha Real Smooth."

    Floundering college grad Andrew (writer/director Cooper Raiff) falls for a single mom (Dakota Johnson) in the comic romance "Cha Cha Real Smooth." Courtesy of Apple TV+

 
 
Updated 6/17/2022 9:34 AM

"Cha Cha Real Smooth" - ★ ★ ★

Parts of Cooper Raiff's comically amiable "Cha Cha Real Smooth" sound like a grad student's first attempt at writing stage play juvenilia about the meaning of post-college life.

 

Characters constantly summarize feelings with eye-rolling obviousness.

"Growing up is hard!" Mom (Leslie Mann) says to her 22-year son Andrew (writer/director Raiff) (Do you suppose that later she will tell him, "Getting old is hard," as well?)

A single mother named Domino (Dakota Johnson) informs Andrew that "Giving your heart to somebody is the most perplexing thing!"

Yep. It sure can be.

But don't judge this movie on the basis of several overwritten lines.

By its bittersweet ending, "Cha Cha Real Smooth" has created a remarkably moving, sensitive and cliché-adverse romance, testifying to the raw power of kindness.

Domino (Dakota Johnson) decides to hire a young man to babysit her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) in Cooper Raiff's comic romance "Cha Cha Real Smooth."
Domino (Dakota Johnson) decides to hire a young man to babysit her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) in Cooper Raiff's comic romance "Cha Cha Real Smooth." - Courtesy of Apple TV+
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"Cha Cha Real Smooth" offers no villains, just misperceived characters, all of whom struggle for connection and purpose while demonstrating an almost spiritual commitment to gentleness, understanding and empathy.

This may not be a great movie, but it signifies that Raiff, 25, has the potential to amaze us at a later date.

As Andrew, he plays a fairly good-looking employee at the local Meat Sticks fast-food restaurant. He's slightly selfish, but a charming pleaser highly aware of how others are feeling.

One night he brings his wide-eyed little brother (Evan Assante) to a bat mitzvah where he meets an attractive, thirtysomething single mom, Domino, and does such a good job bringing her young autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) out of her shell, he snares an actual job as a "party starter."

In the comic romance "Cha Cha Real Smooth," Andrew (writer/director Cooper Raiff) tries to help his younger brother (Evan Assante) with life lessons.
In the comic romance "Cha Cha Real Smooth," Andrew (writer/director Cooper Raiff) tries to help his younger brother (Evan Assante) with life lessons. - Courtesy of Apple TV+
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Andrew falls hard for Domino, and she for him, even though she has a tough Chicago lawyer (Raul Castillo) for a betrothed boyfriend.

"Cha Cha Real Smooth" treats us to a genteel cage fight to see which will prevail: the standard-issue "made-for-each-other soul-mate fantasy" (Andrew's side), or the pragmatic "good provider/financial security reality-check" (Domino's side).

"You can't just decide that you love somebody!" Domino says.

"Yes, you can!" Andrew retorts.

"No, you can't!"

"Yes, you can!" He is that persistent.

Andrew's mom (Leslie Mann) and stepdad Greg (Brad Garrett) show up to help their struggling twentysomething son (Cooper Raiff) in the comic romance "Cha Cha Real Smooth."
Andrew's mom (Leslie Mann) and stepdad Greg (Brad Garrett) show up to help their struggling twentysomething son (Cooper Raiff) in the comic romance "Cha Cha Real Smooth." - Courtesy of Apple TV+

Raiff's direction has focus and efficiency, and he has no problem allowing Andrew to be an annoying pain in the keister once in a while.

Johnson is the revelation here, a study in sadness and quiet resolve, hinting at the vulnerability Andrew so clearly notices and responds to.

His understanding stepdad (Brad Garrett) and mom (Mann) make the most of their extremely supportive characters -- a little too supportive -- in Raiff's impressive second feature. (He starred in, directed, wrote, produced and coedited his first one, "Sh-thouse," which won Best Narrative Feature at the 2020 SXSW film festival.)

"Cha Cha Real Smooth," unlike the usual summer blockbusters, emphasizes characters over plot, action and spectacle. That it functions as an accidental parable for the importance of empathy and kindness serves as a bonus.

• • •

Starring: Dakota Johnson, Cooper Raiff, Vanessa Burghardt, Brad Garrett, Leslie Mann

Directed by: Cooper Raiff

Other: An Apple TV+ release in theaters and on Apple TV+. Rated R for language, sexual situations. 107 minutes

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