Cha Cha Real Smooth: Take It Back Now, by David Bax
Two movies into his young career, certain motifs and preoccupations are already beginning to become apparent in the films of Cooper Raiff, the director of the new Cha Cha Real Smooth. That’s what it takes to be granted the status of “auteur” and Raiff might just be the first major Gen Z one of those in cinema. One such trademark he’s quickly developing is a depiction of familial closeness that is not of the classic domestic sitcom variety but rather is as sweet as it is potentially damaging.
This time around, the family of protagonist Andrew (Raiff), which consists of mom (Leslie Mann), brother (Evan Assante) and stepdad (Brad Garrett) don’t always get along but are probably healthier, in the end, than the almost toxically supportive mom from Shithouse (Raiff’s debut), played by Amy Landecker. This is where it should be pointed out that Cha Cha Real Smooth, as good as it is, feels in some ways like a step down from Shithouse because it often fails to be as relentlessly self-critical, allowing itself to come dangerously close to the landmines of wish fulfillment and self-aggrandizement.
Still, Raiff is convincing as a recent college grad because, in terms of age, that’s more or less what he would be had he remained in school. The same is true of Odeya Rush, who plays a high school classmate with whom Andrew reconnects. And the kids who attend the bar and bat mitzvahs he gets hired to M.C. are all played by actors of bar and bat mitzvah age. We often see young people played by slightly older actors but the reason behind this verisimilitude becomes clear with the introduction of a young mom named Domino, played by Dakota Johnson. Johnson could convincingly play younger in most movies but it’s crucial here that, as a character just on the other side of her twenties, she be surrounded by actors who make that small but significant gap clear.
Of course, Andrew falls for Domino. I mean, of course he does. There’s an argument to be made that, in addition to being a movie about a young guy struggling to figure out his life, Cha Cha Real Smooth is also a kind of documentary about Johnson’s outsized charm and allure. It’s a phenomenal performance, one that fulfills the need to show us exactly what Andrew sees in Domino but also shows us the things the doesn’t, the things he won’t be able to without another decade or so of life under his belt. Raiff the director clearly possesses a lot of empathy but he might just have an even bigger strength for casting.
When we’re young, we tend to look at the lives of those who are a bit older but still plenty capable and see sadness and resignation. Why would anyone who doesn’t have to stay home on a Friday night? Cha Cha Real Smooth sees something that many of us only begin to perceive with time, that finding joy in different things as you age is not any worse or better. It’s just different.
Everyone alive right now, regardless of age, is experiencing the same moments at the same time. Cha Cha Real Smooth, a movie that’s both weighty with emotional saturation and light as a feather on the wind, understands the meaning of that. Every single moment is simultaneously massive and meaningless.