I wasn’t sure what to make of a movie called Cha Cha Real Smooth, but when I learned that it won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival it earned my attention. Now I’m a proselytizer for the film and its talented writer-director-star Cooper Raiff. It’s well worth seeking out as it debuts Friday on Apple TV+.
Raiff’s small-town protagonist isn’t easily described. At the age of 22 he’s still living at home with his mom (the wonderful Leslie Mann) and searching for his path in life. He’s a people-pleaser who has a facility for getting a party going and manages to turn that into a job. Then he meets a gangly, autistic teenage girl (Vanessa Burghardt) and reaches out to help her, mainly by being a friend and protector. He asks nothing in return, but this sincere relationship becomes complicated when he develops feelings for her young, beautiful mother (Dakota Johnson).
In most other movies, this would lead in one of several equally predictable directions. But Cha Cha Real Smooth is decidedly not formulaic. As Raiff contends with a dramatic disruption in the status quo of his life he shows us facets of his character that make him even more impressive. A climactic scene inside a car on a rainy day becomes a tour-de-force for this young actor/filmmaker.
Having several well-known actors in the cast (Johnson, Mann, Brad Garrett) may help sell this modest indie title to wary viewers but after seeing it I predict that people will be reacting as I did, talking about the wondrous achievements of Cooper Raiff. I’m glad that appearing on a major streaming service will bring this superior piece of work to a large audience worldwide.