FILM REVIEW — Cooper Raiff is a “Real Smooth” filmmaker to watch

Published 12:14 am Saturday, June 18, 2022

“Cha Cha Real Smooth”

Apple TV+

Directed by Cooper Raiff

Starring Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Assante, Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett

Rated R

3 Stars

Cooper Raiff is an impressive young filmmaker. He is only 25, but he has now written, directed and starred in his second film, the charming coming-of-age drama, “Cha Cha Real Smooth.”

Okay, so he still needs to work on his ability to come up with good movie titles, but the rest of this film is very nice. “Cha Cha” is a light-hearted look at a young man who’s trying to move past the aimlessness of youth into something more substantial.

Raiff stars as Andrew, a young man who is home from college and living with his parents (Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett).

He agrees to chaperone his brother (Evan Assante) to a bat mitzvah one night, where he takes it upon himself to get all of the shy kids up on the dance floor. In doing so, he manages to strike up an improbable relationship with an autistic teen (Vanessa Burghardt) and her harried mother (Dakota Johnson).

It’s at this point where the film starts to look like it will turn into a traditional romance, but Raiff doesn’t want to commit his movie to standard love story tropes, preferring to let the characters simply meander through their budding relationship.

Passion is deferred, which allows them to form genuine connections that provide the beating heart of this movie.

Credit Raiff, who is a very charismatic performer, yet gives his co-stars plenty of space to shine. This works best for Johnson, who delivers a haunting performance as a young mother who loves her daughter, but also seems trapped by the demands of raising an autistic child.

She’s torn between the security of settling down and the thrill of having one last fling. It’s quite a memorable performance.

I’m also impressed by Burghardt, an actress who is autistic in real life. I will admit I was dubious that a caring mother would leave a young man alone at night with her teenage daughter, but the relationship quickly resolves into genuine friendship.

It’s improbable in the cold light of day, but the affection between these two characters turns out to be my favorite part of this movie.

There’s more solid character work from Leslie Mann, playing the odd-but-loving mother, as well as Evan Assante, the shy teen who turns to his older brother for relationship advice.

Heck, there’s even a nice moment or two with Brad Garrett, playing the much-put upon stepdad.

All of these touching character interactions make “Cha Cha Real Smooth” into a memorable little drama. I wish that Raiff would have spent more time fleshing out his character, as well, but I can’t deny the charm of watching Andrew trying to figure out what to do with his life.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” turns out to be a superb sophomore effort from an impressive young filmmaker.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at sean@seanthemovieguy.com.