‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’ Review

Those low-down post-college blues

In the ever-growing trope of post-university existentialist cinema à la Frances Ha, Apple TV+’s Cha Cha Real Smooth has a crazy idea: What if moving back in with your parents after school wasn’t so bad after all?

Andrew (Cooper Raiff, who also wrote the script and directs) spends his entire life putting a smile on everyone else’s face like it’s an impulse. He’s fresh out of college and recently moved back home where his only forward momentum is an in with the Jewish mom crowd. As a local bar mitzvah party host, he meets the solitary Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic teenage daughter, Lola (newcomer Vanessa Burghardt). As Andrew integrates himself into their family, his friendship with Domino hints at something deeper they’ve both seemingly missed out on before now, if only they could figure out what that is.

Call it an unusual but fast-fomenting form of borderline self-indulgent millennial cinema, but Cha Cha Real Smooth strikes a humorous balance that leans more heavily upon the purposefully awkward and deadpan. This is a film far less reliant on gags and more on the mundanity of post-graduation life. It’s light on external conflict, even as the characters are internally frustrated by plans gone awry and that pesky step into real life once you hit a certain age. If you’re like most people who were lucky enough to attend university (and finish it), you’ll know the extreme dread that follows. You’re still that same fucked-up person, still captivated and driven by the things you were as a child—for Andrew, it’s a constant need to please; for Domino, it’s a good cry over the years she’s lost.

Despite his captivating presence, there’s just something about Raiff’s face that makes you want to punch him, and it takes a good while to figure out whether you like him or not. Once you deicide you do (or don’t), set it aside for Johnson’s unbelievable soft-spoken but guarded performance. She’s so relaxed here, and there’s a simplicity to that which reflects the film’s overall stripped-down storytelling. Cha Cha is simple, but earnest—this isn’t groundbreaking cinema, but it’s wholesome and enjoyable. Besides, does every movie need to reinvent the wheel?

Sadly, then, Raiff’s themes can be frustratingly on-the-nose, and the last act crams in realization after realization, which in turn slows things down. Cha Cha begins to feel like a ‘90s-style cinematic narrative awkwardly placed in the now, which could be appealing to a particular segment of the population (read, younger educated types from a more privileged economic background and/or people who found Almost Famous to be a moving experience). Others might be better off with 2020′s Shiva Baby, which took the ideas of existential dread and Jewish family politics to smart comedic heights and razor-sharp timing.

Cha Cha Real Smooth, however, offers nothing new. Instead, it’s like a collection of reminders that people need different things at different times in their lives. It’s a gentle nudge of a film that lets you know things are maybe gonna be OK. Raiff puts in the work to take hold of your heart, though, and we should try to embrace these kinds of movies, even if their faults are evident. The world is too bitter otherwise.


+Wholesome cinema

-We get it, you’ve got themes

Cha Cha Real Smooth

Directed by Raiff

With Raiff, Johnson and Burghardt

Apple TV+, R, 107 min

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