Cooper Raiff turns the single-parent-romance trope on its head
At first glance, Cha Cha Real Smooth is a recipe for a familiar romantic movie. A young man moves aimlessly through life until he forms a bond with an autistic child, which brings him closer to her mother. Can you hear the wedding bells ringing yet?
In actuality, writer/director Cooper Raiff (Shithouse) turns a tired cliché on its head. Raiff plays 22-year-old Andrew. Struggling to find his place after graduating from college and separating from his Barcelona-bound girlfriend, he moves back home with his hated stepfather (Brad Garrett), loving and bipolar mother (Leslie Mann), and adoring little brother David (Evan Assante).
Andrew is a sweet goofball, and his charming persona doesn’t go unnoticed in his circles. A swarm of Jewish mothers are quick to recruit him to a paid position as a bar mitzvah party-starter.
When he takes David to one classmate’s bat mitzvah, he instantly notices the sequestered 30-something-year-old Domino (Dakota Johnson) and her autistic daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt). Instantly striking up a bond with Lola, Andrew ingratiates himself into the family’s lives, despite the looming presence of Domino’s lawyer fiancé.
Apart from some misplaced hero worship (Andrew is too-much praised for his kindness to Lola), Cha Cha Real Smooth is a sweet narrative about embracing the “good-for-you” things in life.
Sidestepping the pitfalls of the single-parent-romance trope, the film respects the struggling mother and the neurodivergent teenager as individuals with lives apart from Andrew. The college grad is not a knight in shining armor to come save them. He may be, in fact, the one in need of saving.
“Do you think I peaked already?” an old high school friend asks Andrew one night after casual sex. Voicing Andrew’s own inner conflict, she states that her job sucks, and “selling your time is insane,” anyway. Disillusioned by the harsh realities of life post-graduation, the two are meant to be empathetically representative of their generation.
To many Gen Z’ers, the characters’ feeling of lostness in a transitional period will deeply resonate, as will Andrew’s dilemma: his need for space to figure things out, and how that conflicts with his desire for the stability that Domino and Lola represent.
It’s easy for Andrew to fall in love with Lola, but he in turn overly romanticizes what life would be like as part of their family. It’s not that his infatuation is entirely misplaced: Johnson and Raiff have compelling, “will-they/won’t-they” chemistry, and the characters have a lot of sweet moments together. But the confusing nature of their relationship brings out Andrew’s worst flaws.
Raiff writes Andrew’s faults–a propensity for drunkenness, a tendency to overstep boundaries–to be easily forgiven in light of his charms. But Raiff’s desire to paint his character as the quintessential “nice guy” is somewhat misguided, and he even wrenches the spotlight away from the film’s overarching story in order to spotlight Andrew’s witty dialogue and awkwardly endearing moments. Quite a few scenes in the movie could have been redirected to better weave into the film’s more prevalent themes.
But when it comes to the concluding message, it’s a truly satisfying one that flips the script. Encouraging its younger audience not to be ashamed of transitional periods, at the same time, Raiff’s comedy drama dissuades its more established viewers from ignoring their own needs. Hopeful without being too saccharine, Cha Cha Real Smooth a funny, warm, endearing watch from start to finish.
Read More: Cha Cha Real Smooth Ending Explained
Verdict - 8/10