Sundance 2022 Review: “Cha Cha Real Smooth”

Year: 2022


Runtime: 107 minutes


Director/Writer: Cooper Raiff


Stars: Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante, Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, Raul Castillo

By Morgan Roberts

“Cha Cha Real Smooth”(2022) is one of those films that gives you a light but warm hug when you need it most. With this film, Cooper Raiff does it all as writer, director, and star of the film. 

In the film, Andrew (Raiff) has graduated college and heads home to figure it out.  While at a bar mitzvah with his brother David (Evan Assante), Andrew meets Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) – who has autism. Andrew quickly charms Domino and Lola, forging an unlikely friendship with the duo.

Raiff’s writing and direction really looks for the heart in each of his characters.  Andrew is one of the few male characters I have seen on screen to be nuanced.  He is goofy, he cries when upset, he shows up to emotionally support, and he’s also a hopeless optimist. 

The other characters are just as lived in.  Dominio, portrayed beautifully by Johnson, is both a fiercely loving mom and a woman struggling with others defining her existence.  There is a heartbreaking scene rather early in the film that makes your heart ache for this character.  Burghardt is a scene stealer in her first feature film.  She humanizes autism and has terrific chemistry with Raiff.  There are scenes between the two actors that are filled with respect that can be extremely rare to see on film.

The film is also neatly put together by its entrancing score by Christopher Stracey and Este Haim. The score elevates so many scenes, sweeping you into the moment before you even realize you’ve been brought there.

While the film does not necessarily have anything new to say about being aimless after college, Raiff sucks you in with his magnetism and Johnson seals the deal with her incredible performance.  “Cha Cha Real Smooth” has already won over audiences at Sundance, and was acquired by Apple for release.  Once seen by wider audiences, there is no doubt that this film will be an overwhelming win with viewers. 

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