Review: Cha Cha Real Smooth

By Christian DiMartino

Maybe the current Sundance model isn’t for me.

Last year, CODA was the talk of Sundance. It received glowing reviews, won a few prizes and to my great chagrin, went on to win the Best Picture Oscar. This year, the talk of Sundance was Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth, which was acquired by Apple for a hefty price. Here is a movie that I didn’t mind until I really sat there and unpacked what I was watching. It’s a movie of moments, but it’s not only nothing new, but it’s not really that much of a movie. Sorry guys, I once again don’t see what all the fuss is about.

I missed out on Raiff’s first film. Or did I? I don’t know. From what I gather from his work in Cha Cha Real Smooth, there is a certain charm to him, but it’s also totally by design. If you look at his IMDb, Raiff has only appeared in two movies, and they’re both written and directed by… Cooper Raiff. So despite how suave he may come across, and to a degree he does have charisma, it’s a little hard to buy into him because he really writes and presents himself well. He hasn’t given anyone else the chance to put him to use, so as far as I’m aware, he’s a pretty funny, likable guy because he wants us to know that he’s a pretty funny, likable guy. You get where I’m going with this? It’s just a little difficult to avoid detecting the narcissism.

The film follows Raiff’s Andrew, who is funny and winning but he lacks direction. He’s in a relationship that isn’t really going anywhere, he’s in a crappy job, he loves his mom (Leslie Mann) but dislikes his stepdad (Brad Garrett). One night when he is attending a bat-mitzvah with his brother, he meets Domino (Dakota Johnson), a single mother with an autistic daughter. He is pretty drawn to her and the two strike up a relationship of the sorts. He also decides that he’s pretty much going to become a DJ. And… that’s pretty much the movie. Just a guy trying to figure his life out and what not. Perhaps what sort of irked me is that Judd Apatow’s superior The King of Staten Island is still fresh in my mind, and I saw a lot of similarities between Andrew and Pete Davidson’s character. This isn’t new territory, guys.

Raiff does write himself well, but he’s a little less successful with the company that he keeps. That’s not to knock the other performances, all of which are pretty good. But they all seem a little thinly written, and, Garrett aside, the only real role that they serve is to be pulled into Andrew’s orbit, hype him up and be charmed by him. Raiff does have fine comedic timing though and I will give the movie credit for not only holding my attention, but it did get a chuckle out of me every so often.

Yet it just feels so familiar. Sundance of course flocked to this because the movie does have a very independent vibe and all that. But that doesn’t always mean it’s great. The path that this film travels down is not only predictable but unoriginal. Of course Andrew is going to push people too far, ruffle a few feathers. But then he’s going to come to terms with himself, help out a noble cause, get his priorities straight, find a purpose, and get his life maybe not completely on track, but things will look up for him. It also all hits beats that are supposed to be emotional and tug at the heartstrings, but I just didn’t really care. I’m normally open to being manipulated, but I don’t know, I didn’t feel like giving in this time.

Maybe I should check out Raiff’s first film. Maybe he does something else in that one. I’d personally like to see him in someone else’s movie, because there is something about him that comes across as winning. The movie must come across as winning too, seeing as it’s been pretty well received. It’s not a film that pained me to sit through it, but at this point in time, Cha Cha Real Smooth (hate that title for some reason) left me untouched.

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