The Reel Review

A

Shortly after moving back home, recent college graduate Andrew falls into a job as a bar mitzvah party host, where he befriends a single mom and her autistic teenage daughter in this AppleTV+ indie dramedy starring, written and directed by Cooper Raiff and starring Dakota Johnson. As Andrew starts spending more time with the two, he starts to develop romantic feelings for the thirtysomething mom, who is already engaged to be married.

Cooper Raiff and Dakota Johnson in Cha Cha Real Smooth.

Two years after his critically acclaimed dramedy debut Shithouse, Cooper Raiff has put together one damn cute and charming story about young adults discovering themselves amidst the backdrop of unfortunate timing. That he wrote, directed and stars in such an intensely intimate and realistic film is an impressive feat for the 25-year-old, who drew upon his own life experiences for the screenplay. (His younger sister is disabled and although Raiff isn’t Jewish, his high school girlfriend in his hometown of Dallas was, which introduced him to the bar mitzvah circuit.)

Dakota Johnson is terrific as the melancholic mom. And Vanessa Burghardt, who’s on the spectrum in real life, is an absolute joy to watch in her film debut. The strong ensemble cast also includes Leslie Mann and Brad Garrett as Andrew’s mom and stepdad, Evan Assante as his younger brother, and Odeya Rush (Lady Bird, Dumplin’) as his childhood friend.

Vanessa Burghardt and Cooper Raiff in Cha Cha Real Smooth.

The film doesn’t shy away from such heady topics as depression, excessive drinking, and the challenges surrounding special needs individuals, and is refreshingly unsentimental in the way it handles complicated relationships. In the wake of such excellent films as The Peanut Butter Falcon, Our Friend and now Cha Cha Real Smooth, kudos to Dakota Johnson for choosing such heartfelt and interesting characters to portray. Cha Cha Real Smooth is a super sweet winner that will have you reaching for the tissues.

REEL FACTS

• Purchased by AppleTV+ for $15 million, Cha Cha Real Smooth was the Audience Award winner and a nominee for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

• The film’s casting director, Angela Demo, says reached out to local theaters in major cities to solicit autistic actresses to audition for Lola, saying once she and Raiff spent some time with Vanessa Burghardt, the choice was easy. “Vanessa just kind of was Lola,” she says.

Cha ChaReal Smooth was filmed in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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