Cooper Raiff and Evan Assante in Cha Cha Real Smooth.
Cha Cha Royal Soft
WHERE TO SEE:
WHAT IS IT ABOUT:
Andrew (Cooper Raiff) is a charming but listless 22-year-old college graduate who lives at home with his mother (Leslie Mann), stepfather (Brad Garrett), and younger brother David (Evan Assante). He earns a little money here and there cooking burgers at his local fast food restaurant and working as a “party starter” at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in his local community. He has a girlfriend abroad, and although he plans to visit her at some point, he is convinced that she is cheating on him, especially since her communication has been reduced to almost nothing. When he meets and befriends a young mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson), and her high-functioning autistic daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), his life begins to come into focus and, as a result, becomes even more complicated.
WHAT WE THINK:
Look, let’s get this out of the way: Cha Cha Royal Soft that’s a fucking horrible name for a movie. It makes some sense in the context of the movie, but still not much, and it doesn’t do anything to represent what kind of movie it is. Frankly, if I hadn’t been assigned the review, I would have skipped the pretty but dysfunctional Apple TV+ home screen, assuming I wouldn’t get it, which would be a shame because it’s a real gem of a movie.
Cynically, and probably completely incorrectly, it can be seen as Apple cashing in on CODA’s runaway success, as it’s also a coming-of-age story centered around someone whose growth is fueled by their extensive interactions with someone outside the box. … typical (is that the politically correct word?). But not only does that gloss over how long it takes to make even small independent films like this, but cynicism could hardly be less appropriate for something so obviously personal and affectionate.
Cooper Raiff, who writes, directs, produces and stars in the film (lazy!), based the story on his own experiences as a non-Jewish boy who grew up in a part of Texas with a large Jewish community and where his grade was, according to his estimate, at least 40% Jewish. He points out how until the age of thirteen, he barely noticed this fact, but suddenly found himself going to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs every Saturday for an entire year. Despite obviously being part of the mainstream culture, he suddenly felt like an outsider looking at a tradition he admired and enjoyed but was not a part of.
To be honest, and this is probably my biggest criticism, I would have loved the movie to go deeper into that aspect, as it’s rare to see any kind of “mainstream” media view Judaism through a lens other than extraordinarily alien and anachronistic. (the sudden explosion of shows dealing with ultra-ultra-orthodox communities is a case in point) or so thoroughly assimilated that the differences between Jewish and non-Jewish culture are reduced to the occasional quirk or glimpse at a slightly different but typically unplugged place of worship. But alas, Raiff keeps this level of the film relatively shallow and all too familiar.
However, looking at the movie for what it is, rather than what I’d like it to be, this theme of being someone who’s just not in tune with their own lives runs throughout the narrative. He informs all the main characters that our hero Andrew (Raiff himself, who eschews the self-aggrandizement and self-indulgence that might have come with this role, but comes across as immensely charming and sympathetic) comes into contact with… and of course of course himself.
Andrew struggles to find his way after graduating from college, but doesn’t know what he wants from life. The unlikely Domino (Johnson, typically excellent) keeps talking about how badly she wants to marry her long-lost fiancé, Joseph (Raúl Castillo). She is distant both literally and figuratively, as she spends a lot of time traveling and seems rather unemotional when she is around her. Domino’s daughter Lola (newcomer Burghardt, who has autism spectrum disorder like her character, kills him off in her debut role, and her interactions with Andrew de Raiff are the soul of the film) is literally an outsider since his autism acts as a constant. barrier of understanding between her and others. And Andrew’s younger brother Dave (Assante, another young newcomer who stands out here), is, well, a typical teenager trying to get the attention of a girl he likes and turns to Andrew for help. Even Andrew’s mother (Mann, at her best in a small but crucial role) is cut off from her life by her bipolar disorder, where a simple mood swing can abruptly stop the comfortable flow of life. suburban of her
Although there is little that is original or surprising about how the story unfolds or how these various characters affect Andrew and each other, Raiff brings a quiet, unassuming humanity to all of his roles in the film, giving everything a ring of truth that belies her more formulaic trappings. It is, quite simply, a very well-made and well-intentioned little movie with a sharp script, excellent performances, rock-solid character work, and a good, strong handling of its central theme. It may not surprise you, but it’s hard to imagine anyone not being won over by this beautiful human story, or impressed by how safe a job it is for such a young and relatively inexperienced filmmaker.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:
Cha Cha Real Smooth is available to stream on AppleTV+