New from Peter Spedale on Be Movie See Movie: Movie Review: Cha Cha Real Smooth

Some people write their thoughts in journals. Others choose to meet with a therapist or talk to loved ones. 24 year old Cooper Raiff chose to air out his feelings via screenplay. His Shithouse captures the life of a college wallflower: those unsure kids scared to give up their previous lives and dive right into this new world of experiences. Now, Raiff explores the post college malaise in Cha Cha Real Smooth, a movie that almost finds brilliance but at least proves Raiff is a talent to keep an eye on as he matures.

Like Shithouse, Raiff writes, directs, and stars in Cha Cha Real Smooth. He plays Andrew, a life of the party go with the flow college grad who made zero plans for his life after school to the chagrin of his college girlfriend Maya (Amara Pedroso Saquel), ready to move to Barcelona on a Fulbright scholarship. Andrew ends up back living with his mom Lisa (Leslie Mann), stepdad Greg (Brad Garrett), and younger brother David (Evan Assante), working a crap job in the local mall’s hot dog stand. Desperate to capture that high, Andrew escorts David to a Bat Mitzvah, and makes it his mission to help all the kids have a great time. Especially Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), and older autistic teen, which draws the eye of her mother Domino (Dakota Johnson), instantly moved by Andrew’s patience and empathy. Also moved are the Jewish moms in the area, who dub Andrew their Bar/Bat Mitzvah hype man of choice and gives him a summer of adventures and chances to maybe run into Lola/Domino again.

Despite my light chiding, Cooper Raiff really has proved how gifted he is at digging for the truth despite his youthful age. With Cha Cha Real Smooth, Raiff navigates those post college years for the kid who went to college for the social aspects, not the career prospects. Raiff’s Andrew thankfully isn’t bitter, he’s just desperate for that college high, where everyone can just be joyful together, uninhibited and free to be their true selves. Andrew and a fellow “live at home post college with parents” friend Macy (Odeya Rush) have conversations very similar to ones I had with friends in my 20s, concerned about peaking at school, now stuck in a life at a crap job, with the weight of responsibility and adulthood bearing down upon them. This concern is so prevalent that Andrew gets real hot and bothered if he’s called a “kid” by older adults, lacking the perspective of a life the parents around him have lived for decades. It explains why Andrew gravitates to this job of being a Bar/Bat Mitzvah hype man: more easily connecting with children and their lives, because it’s something he understands and can help with, especially evident in his advice/relationship with his littler brother David.

From the beginning, Cha Cha Real Smooth makes clear Andrew craves to connect with older people, even if he can’t right now. Enter Dakota Johnson’s Domino, pretty much Andrew’s fantasy. In Domino Andrew sees himself: a person figuring herself out but more attractively as a “real” adult as Andrew sees it, since she has Lola to care for. The highlight of Cha Cha Real Smooth is the delicate balance Raiff pulls off in that Andrew/Domino relationship, which could so easily have fallen into scandalous affair/milf fantasy quasi porn. Instead, the “affair” if there is one is emotional, as Domino sees in Andrew the promise of what her life could have been had responsibility not arrived so quickly: essentially she also sees Andrew as a bit of a fantasy. Raiff uncovers the valuable life lesson of learning the difference between the “idea” of someone and the “reality” of that person. Andrew sees these intense conversations with Domino as uncovering the real her as life has taught him, but Domino knows differently, but is so intoxicated by the fantasy she’s trapped in between the real and the dream, confusing Andrew but eventually leading him to the clarity of life as an adult. While painful in the moment, Raiff extracts that basic truth about a young twentysomething with no responsibility, those moments help you figure out who you are, and what really will matter to you as you naturally grow older instead of projecting “adult” onto yourself.

Everyone needs a little empathy. Even the privileged post college grads filled with endless opportunities but stuck in a rut for a moment. Cooper Raiff shows with Cha Cha Real Smooth that he is a young truth seeker, gently going through life trying to understand the meaning of what happens as we get older. If he’s already this good at 25, I look forward to what years of perspective will do to his storytelling. Or maybe he’ll just end up like Stepdad Greg.

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