Cha Cha Real Smooth

Starring: Cooper Raif, Dakota johnson, Leslie Mann, Vanessa Burghardt, Evan Asante, Brad Garret, and Raul Castillo.

Directed By: Cooper Raif

Where I watched it: Apple Plus

English Audio Description Available?: Yes

Description Provided By Pixel Logic Media

Narrated By Tansy Alexander

The Plot: Andrew (Raif) is 22, living at home in his little brother’s room, in his stepdad’s house, with no real plans for the future except to save up enough money to chase down his high school girlfriend that is studying abroad. But, when his mom (Mann) has him accompany his brother (Asante) to a bar mitzvah, Andrew realizes he’s really good at getting a party started, and soon becomes a professional party starter for bar mitzvah’s. But, he also meets a shy autistic girl named Lola (Burghardt) who he manages to reach, which impresses her mother Domino (Johnson), possibly setting these two on a path of change.

What Works: It’s a coming of age story without necessarily feeling like a coming of age story. Often, these stories feature boys who have zero confidence, or really need some kind of huge wake up call. That’a not entirely true of Andrew. Really, what he needed was the permission to not feel like he has to fly off to Europe to be happy. He needed to find happiness here, and that’s something that could have happened at any age.

As a counter to his own perspective, Domino is in a sometimes long distance relationship as her fiancée (Castillo) is spending a lot of time in Chicago working on a legal case. She doesn’t feel the need to chase him, because she has the safety of living in his house, so he has to come back. Even though Domino’s main fear seems to be abandonment after Lola’s father walked away, she doesn’t seem particularly concerned with Joseph not coming back to her.

And that’s part of why Andrew gets confused at why they might have a future, because he sees her being left behind, in a discarded way that he currently feels, projecting onto Domino a lot of his own misgivings about his own long distance girlfriend (who he’s cheating on anyway). It’s like everyone else can see the puzzle is done, but Andrew, and he’s searching for something to prove everyone else wrong.

The Andrew/Domino dynamic is interesting, but really his dynamic with every character is interesting. I know the film is trying to suggest something about where he leans with that opening scene, but he has a new vibe with every scene partner. With his step-dad (Garret), he’s pretty brutal, not really willing to concede that this guy has anything to offer the world, and writing him off as some useless gorilla. For his mother, he has a more honest relationship, but still hides the parts of him that he knows she would disagree with. When he’s with his brother, he gets to be the cool guy navigating his younger brother through all the best parts of life, passing on knowledge that only an older brother could pass along, and he can feel that his brother really does love and accept him. In many ways, their relationship is the ost honest, because he can be himself and his brother never really sees anything wrong with that. Then, with Lola, he’s just the guy that treats her like a normal person. Lola is so used to people being mean to her, excluding her, that she seems to have this one in a million reaction to Andrew. You could say that this film is about how Andrew’s life was changed, but he changes and gives something back to almost every major character in the film.

What Doesn’t Work: I almost wish that first scene hadn’t happened. I wish Cooper had left that out, because it made it seem like the story wass about the age gap. That Andrew sought out his own ms Robinson, almost the same way Aaron Stanford did with Sigourney Weaver in Tadpole, or Bryan Greenberg with uma Thurman in Prime. This is not that. I don’t think he pursued Domino because of her age, after all, Cooper and Dakota are only 10 years apart. I think it was more about timing, personality, and shared experiences.

Andrew was just being Andrew, and Domino and Lola fell into his lap. And for a moment, he allowed for that to be real. The fact that she has to remind him about the age difference serves as a reminder of how little he cares about it.

My other problem with the film is just the title, which seems like dancing would be far more integral to the plot. And it could have been. A chunk of the catalyst for the whole film was Andrew getting Lola to dance, and part of the evolution of Andrew and Domino’s relationship could have grown over dance lessons. Lessons he also gives his brother. I feel like that’s the obvious path to go if you want dance to be a key factor in the film enough to title it this way. There are multiple bar mitzvah’s in this movie as well, and the film could have just as easily been called Bar Mitzcah Season and made about the same amount of sense.

My final thought is, and I’m not picking on him because this might have been intentional, but Raul Castillo feels out of place in every way. Like he was given the script the day before the shoot. It’s not a bad performance, but he feels like he’s in a different film. It’s a very odd thing, to watch someone kind of sleepwalk like an alien through a rather lighthearted upbeat film. I’ve heard some say they think it was intentional, but there are other characters Andrew doesn’t like, or get along with, or he feels like are aliens in his world. Why this one actor? I wonder if he replaced someone at the last minute due to Covid or something.

The Blind Perspective: Very good narration from Tansy, who is a pro and one of the best. I’ve never heard of the company before. You know what’s funny? I can’t remember a single character description. I have no idea what Cooper Raif looks like, and I still don’t. I don’t know if i just wasn’t paying attention because I knew half the cast, and didn’t need someone to tell me what Leslie Mann looks like, or if they weren’t there. But I don’t remember a single character description, for a major, supporting, or minor character.

Final Thoughts: When Apple bought this for 15 million out of Sundance, I hope they weren’t planing a second run at Best Picture. Films like this don’t get Oscar nominations, usually because they seem to proliferate the landscape so much in the coming-of-age realm. Even though this has it’s own special charm, it’s still not at the level where I feel like ten years from now there’s an element about this film we’ll still be talking about. It’s a lovely film for right now, and I’m excited to see more of Cooper Raif as an actor, writer, or director, or whatever combination. But an Oscar contender? hopefully Apple has another card up their sleeve for later in the year.

Final Grade: B+

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