A young man who works as a Bar Mitzvah party host strikes up a friendship with a mother and her autistic daughter.
What We Thought:
Going into Cha Cha Real Smooth the only thing I knew about it was that Dakota Johnson was in it. I didn’t know the plot or who else was in it, but maybe because the name of the film is fun to say I thought it might be a fun, light movie.
Because I had no real expectations I think I liked it more than some other people who had preconceived notions going into it. If you are expecting a light, crowd pleaser like CODA you will be sadly mistaken. If you want a realistic look at life during a time of life full of questions, then this is the movie for you. Cooper Raiff (who also wrote and directed the film) stars as Andrew, a recent college grad unsure of what’s next in life. He moves back home to save money to get to Barcelona to be with a girl. He takes a job at a fast food company and one night has to take his younger brother to a bat mitzvah.
There his life changes in two ways. First, all the Jewish mothers want him to be the party starter at their children’s bar/bat mitzvahs because he was able to get the younger crowd onto the dance floor. He’s able to turn this into a job getting paid to make these parties at least bearable. Second, he meets Dakota Johnson’s character Domino and her autistic daughter Lola. He’s a bit smitten by Domino, but she is engaged. Through the party scene he sees more of Domino and Lola and after helping Domino out of a medical jam, they bond and he becomes Lola’s babysitter.
At this point you’re expecting the movie to go the typical Hollywood route. Despite their age difference you figure Andrew and Domino will get together and true love exists! Thankfully it’s not the typical movie and sticks to its indie film roots. I won’t spoil what happens, but I don’t expect too many people will be standing and clapping by film’s end. To me that’s not a bad thing. It’s ok not to have a 100% happy ending. It’s ok for characters to go in different directions. That’s life especially when you’re a 22 year old living life for the first time. Love isn’t always neat and clean and life certainly isn’t.
It’s that sense of realism that really works for me with Cha Cha Real Smooth. The story feels authentic. The dynamic between characters feels authentic. Everyone feels like a real person you could meet. Raiff and Johnson are great as is the entire cast, but to me there are two standouts. I’ve been a Leslie Mann fan since the 1990s, but this might be her best performance. As Andrew’s mother with issues, her performance is subtle and probably the most grounded I’ve ever seen from her. Then there is newcomer Vanessa Burghardt who plays the Autistic daughter Lola. She is fantastic and filled with emotion and laughs. It’s that mix of emotional drama, comedy and realism that for me makes the movie…