New from A Reel of One’s Own by Andrea Thompson: Chicago Critics Film Festival 2022: Cha Cha Real Smooth

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” is a crowd-pleaser in the best way, blending humor, heartbreak, and above all else, sincerity. It takes a familiar scenario, that of a recent, typically flailing college graduate, and chronicling not only his foolish decisions, but that of those who should know better, and it does so with the utmost compassion.

The lost boy in question is Andrew, played by director Cooper Raiff with such charm and likeability it’s impossible to not be invested in him, even if he’s in no danger of being anything less than safely ensconced in his upper middle class New Jersey world that has all the feel of a calm before a storm that brews outside and unseen.

As it is, “Cha Cha Real Smooth” is a refreshing reminder that some things are eternal even in our turbulent times, such as first love, unrequited longing, and adolescent boys standing awkwardly on the side of the dance floor. But given Andrew’s buoyant personality, he is recruited to do something about the latter and is enlisted as a professional partier for the numerous bar and bat mitzvahs he attends with his younger brother.

It’s at one of these gatherings that Andrew meets the 30-something mother Domino (Dakota Johnson), quickly bonding with her and her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Andrew embodies the better values of his family and world even at his most inappropriate moments, so there’s little reason to question why Domino would be so drawn to him despite the fact that she’s set to marry the dreamy, successful Joseph (Raúl Castillo).

Their tentative emotional affair might be the embodiment of the film’s ultimate luxury – the ability to fuck up spectacularly, and still be okay. One might wonder if the usual kind of punishments might be required had their connection advanced just a bit further, but as it is, the fact that such kindness is so rare might be the ultimate heartbreak. But then, perhaps it’s the natural result of having someone as warm and engaging as Leslie Mann as your onscreen mom.

The rest of us aren’t so lucky, but “Cha Cha Real Smooth” is an exquisite chance to live out such a kind life vicariously. 

Grade: A-

from A Reel Of One’s Own

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