SUNDANCE REVIEW – “Cha Cha Real Smooth”

He did it again folks.

Fresh off his SXSW winning “Shithouse” writer-director Cooper Raiff is back at it again, delivering another heartwarming and hilarious coming of age romp. Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Cha Cha Real Smooth” tells the story of Andrew, a recent college grad who finds himself in a state of arrested development. After a fortuitous turn of events, Andrew begins a career of Bar Mitzvah party starting and in doing so, strikes up an unconventional relationship with Domino, a single mother of a special needs teenager. As a massive fan of Raiff’s directorial debut, I was very excited to see what else he had in him. Needless to say, “Cha Cha Real Smooth” was my most anticipated film of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and I am happy to report it was also my favorite.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” sees Raiff tackle similar territory to his first film. A lost protagonist fearful of growing up with an emotionally complicated love interest (not to minimize her character, as she is far more than just a love interest) who has trouble others letting in, an offbeat and incredibly modern sense of humor, and a deeply intimate story based around character relationships. The film also sees Raiff mature as a director, featuring a much larger scale, more ambitious camera work, and even richer character writing. Raiff is able to double down on his talents and push himself further as a director. That being said, the film does feel like a true companion piece to “Shithouse”, and shares much of the DNA that made it so delightful. I would love to see Raiff finish out this trilogy with another low to the ground coming-of-age comedy-drama. It’s like “The Before Trilogy” for shitposters.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” features an all-star cast, differing greatly from “Shithouse” which only featured two major characters. Dakota Johnson, Leslie Mann, and Brad Garrett add real star power to the film and with an ensemble featuring several up-incoming talents, we got a bonafide indie movie here folks! Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett deliver excellent performances, and Vanessa Burghardt adds a great deal of heart to the film. Dakota Johnson and Cooper Raiff have chemistry out the wazoo, and the film really does rest upon them. Believing their relationship makes or breaks the film and luckily I went all-in on it. They both deliver sincere, funny, and heartbreaking performances.

Cooper Raiff is proving to be quite the young talent. Joining the ranks of other micro-budget filmmakers like Jim Cummings or Matthew Johnson, he has proved himself to be an important and inspiring voice in indie filmmaking. Apple just scooped this one up, so I am waiting with baited breathe to see what he does next. I would be violently jealous of him if I were not such a big fan. In short, “Cha Ca Real Smooth” is a deeply sincere, endearing, and moving coming-of-age comedy/drama featuring pitch-perfect writing and incredibly investing performances. I loved it. 4.5/5

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