“Cha Cha Real Smooth”, which was released on Apple TV+ in last week, is your average Sundance film which will not impress you much if you are a seasoned moviegoer like me. As a drama comedy film revolving around one pathetic lad stuck in his aimless life, the movie has some charm and humor, but it frequently meanders and trudges just like its hero, and it does not recover from that much even when the story finally comes to have some focus later.
The early part of the film is about the uncertain current status of its hero Andrew, played by director/writer/co-producer Cooper Raiff himself. Since he graduated from a university, Andrew has been stuck in his family house where his mother Lisa (Leslie Mann) and his stepfather Greg (Brad Garrett) reside, and he still does not have any idea on what he will do next for his life. He is currently earning a bit via his menial part-time job, but he certainly hates that, and he has just been hoping to follow after his girlfriend someday, who recently left for Spain due to her study.
When he is asked to attend a bar mitzvah party by his younger brother David (Evan Assante), Andrew is not so eager to do that, but he eventually goes there along with David. At that bar mitzvah party, Andrew comes across a woman named Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her adolescent autistic daughter Lola (Vannesa Burghardt). When Domino asks him to make her introverted daughter dance a bit along with others, Andrew does not mind at all, and it does not take much for him to convince Lola to dance with him for a while.
Meanwhile, he also happens to find a job he can actually do pretty well while having some fun. After watching how effortlessly he energizes the party, several Jewish mothers at the party later approach to him for hiring him as the master of ceremony for their sons’ bar mitzvah parties. Andrew is certainly happy to accept their requests, and he and David even make a little promotion video for him later, though the result is not as cool as he wants.
When Andrew meets Domino and Lola again at another bar mitzvah party to be handled by him, he comes to interact with them more than before, but there comes a little problem due to Domino’s unexpected medical situation. For protecting Domino from any possibility of embarrassment, Andrew comes to concoct a silly but practical idea, and that is where we get one of the most amusing moments in the film.
As Andrew and Domino subsequently spend more time together in a cozy house where Domino and Lola live, we can sense some mutual feelings being developed between them, but neither of them is willing to go further for good reasons. While he finds himself smitten with Domino more and more, Andrew continues to hesitate, and his reluctance grows more when Domino subsequently reveals to him that she is actually engaged to some hot-shot lawyer.
Nevertheless, Andrew somehow finds himself getting more associated with Domino as he continues to meet her and Lola at the following bar mitzvah parties. As a matter of fact, he even comes to babysit Lola whenever Domino wants to spend evening time outside alone or with her fiancé, and Lola has no problem with being with him because he is nice to her in addition to accepting her autistic sides without any prejudice.
Of course, there inevitably comes a point where both Andrew and Domino become more serious about whatever is going on between them, but Raiff’s screenplay does not have enough narrative development for that. While he eventually comes to grow up a bit in the end, Andrew is a merely nice guy who does not have much personality from the beginning, and the movie also does not pay much attention to his increasingly frequent drinking behind his back, which may be a sign of alcoholism in my humble opinion.
Above all, as often occupied with its hero’s miserable status too much, the movie does not delve enough into who Domino really is – and what she discerns from Andrew. Although she explains a bit to him later in the story, that does not make us understand or empathize with her more, and, despite commendable efforts from Johnson, she only comes to us as a mild passive version of manic pixie dream girl character.
Like Raiff and Johnson, several other main cast members in the film do as much as they can with their respective roles. While Evan Assante brings some humor to his several scenes with Raiff, Vanessa Burghardt, who is actually on autistic spectrum in real life, renders some authenticity to her functional role, and it is a shame that the movie does not utilize well notable performers like Leslie Mann, Brad Garrett, and Raúl Castillo, who sadly does not have much to do except looking mostly stiff and distant.
In conclusion, “Cha Cha Real Smooth”, which somehow won the Audience Award from the U.S. Dramatic Competition when it was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year, does not click that well with me, but it was not a total waste of time at least due to some nice humorous moments. It often feels like being in the need of more rewriting in terms of story and characters, but, considering that this is only Raiff’s second feature film after “Shithouse” (2020), I sincerely hope that he will entertain me more in the next time.