Cha Cha Real Smooth

  • 09 Jul - 15 Jul, 2022
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

This amiable, flawed indie has been winding some pundits up – and yes, maybe the auteur-star has a personality that might trigger a hives breakout among a proportion of his audience. This is 25-year-old Cooper Raiff, whose microbudget debut Freshman Year (alternatively titled Shithouse) was a study in semi-articulate anxiety in the manner of the Duplass brothers. Now he gives us this indulgent relationship comedy-drama in which he himself stars as Andrew, a recent college grad whose girlfriend has airily gone off to Barcelona.

Without the funds (or indeed a clear invitation) to join her, Andrew must come back to live in the family home with his bipolar mom (Leslie Mann) and stepdad Greg (Brad Garrett), sharing a room with his kid brother David (Evan Assante), getting a humiliating job in a fast food restaurant and nursing a growing drink problem. But going with David to a batmitzvah, he discovers he has a gregarious talent for being a professional “party-starter”, encouraging shy teen guests to get on the dancefloor. And this is where he meets the unhappily engaged Domino (Dakota Johnson), and her neurodiverse daughter Lola from a previous relationship, played by newcomer Vanessa Burghardt, an actor on the autism spectrum. Lonely Andrew is drawn to them and they to him; he offers to babysit Lola – who really likes him – and soon Andrew has fallen deeply in love with Domino.

Wide-eyed, ingenuous, borderline passive aggressive Raiff is an acquired taste; he is maybe a tad insufferable and, as a writer-director, he is not shy of giving himself this sympathetic and attractive role. Sometimes the irony level is difficult to gauge: there’s a tense moment when Lola allows Andrew to scratch her back while she is in bed when Domino is out for the evening. Another type of film-maker, a Todd Solondz, might have let the implications and possibilities of that scene drift another way. Does Andrew realise how potentially inappropriate this is? Does he just not notice? Is he, as he playfully suggests to Domino, on the spectrum himself? It is difficult to tell, and sometimes Raiff’s gravitational pull to a happy ending doesn’t quite ring true. Yet this is a fluent and very watchable work, and Johnson and Burghardt carry it.