Slipping and sliding its way into this year’s Sundance selection, even attaining an audience award, is Cooper Raiff’s dramedy, Cha Cha Real Smooth. With its mouthful of a title, Cha Cha Real Smooth presents itself as the charming yet all too generic crowd-pleaser with its rather unoriginal story unable to blossom from its prefaced foundation. Though for only his second feature, Raiff certainly displays his talents as a writer and director. And to reference his directorial debut Shithouse, which was submitted to the South by Southwest film festival, and eventually won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Film. And in his newest comedy-drama, the film centers around Andrew, fresh out of college and looking for any job that’ll hire him to help him skip town to follow his ex in Barcelona. But plans change once he unintentionally winds up as a party host for bar mitzvahs and ends up sparking a unique friendship with a mother and her daughter.
What is most endearing about this film may be its writing and most of the cast. The screenplay as a whole is quite charming, to say the least, as it avoids cliché dialogue as much as possible and instead creates a more natural script for the characters. And because the plot of the film focuses on age and maturity, Raiff writes a fine script that matches the specific generation he is going for, but it gets to the point where the film’s writing becomes quite bothersome halfway through. Topics discussed between characters will certainly wear audiences down as it almost carries a sense of naivete within the conversations, and though it is somewhat realistic to Generation Z dialogue, there comes a point where it must be thinned and polished before production since it becomes rather distracting. It’s genuinely difficult to take in some of the lines being said, especially with the screenplay’s problem of dragging certain scenes on much longer than needed. As for the cast and the chemistry, the film’s strongest points come from most of the assembled lineup. First off, Dakota Johnson helps carry the flaws on her back along with supporting actress Vanessa Burghardt, which to my surprise is her first credit as an actress. Burghardt comes off as exceedingly charismatic from beginning to end and assists the film by interjecting pleasant quirks which fit her character beautifully. Johnson is also striking for the entirety of the screen time and seeing as she is quite the seasoned actress, her quaint performance blends well with the tone the film is going for. Though on the other end of the scale, we have Cooper Raiff, starring as our protagonist, and to put it bluntly, it is a decision that deeply scars the quality of the film. Raiff writes and directs a decent film, but somehow the character he has written for himself is beyond exhausting to endure for almost 2 hours. His delivery comes across as painfully bland mixed with a dash of generic character execution, along with his less than stellar performance, his character remains consistently tedious to watch. It’s safe to say Raiff’s range is unable to satisfy or captivate for more than 5 minutes before you’re compelled to look away from the atrocity.
And as for the story, it is neither unique nor special, as it portrays the growth of characters seen before and done much more effectively. However, Cha Cha Real Smooth is unique in its own way as it somehow builds a mountain of context and growth to eventually drown the resolution by lacking any real payoff. The film’s awkward storytelling is almost anxiety-inducing at times and unable to be taken seriously at any given time. It’s unsure as to what the project was going for as it barely qualifies to be placed in the category of coming of age, and it is much more the insufferable summer dramedy as it fails to write in a proper growth within the characters. The lack of technical beauty such as cinematography, lighting, or color also does not rescue this film from the generic mess it slowly sinks into. Stagnant shots are featured in almost every scene, offering the least bit of spice or flavor for audiences.
Overall, Cha Cha Real Smooth desperately attempts to be the coming of age story to knock your socks off, but to no avail, as it misses its own points entirely and focuses more so on the tiresome protagonist. The film’s performances, for the most part, haul the flaws of the film to transform this potentially forgettable story into the acceptable, yet unoriginal film we see now. And with all of this being said, Cooper Raiff is by no means a less than sublime writer and director, he displays strong talent and potential. It is the fact that Cha Cha Real Smooth is your common crowd-pleaser that possesses elements that make a great film, but fall flat when put all together.