Sundance ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’ Review: Dakota Johnson And Cooper Raiff Star In A Ridiculously Charming Film



The coming-of-age movie genre revolves largely around children and teenagers but the experience of going into the real world after graduating from college is a great premise for chronicling growing pains. ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’, the sophomore feature from filmmaker Cooper Raiff best known for his head-turning debut ‘Shithouse’, understands the potential of a good post-grad story. Raiff has produced, written and directed the feature in which he also stars alongside Dakota Johnson, Vanessa Burghardt and more. With delightfully honest storytelling and a charming cast, the film is the ultimate festival crowd-pleaser to premiere at Sundance.

Figuring out the big life event that finishing school is can be disorienting. In Cha Cha Real Smooth, Cooper Raiff plays Andrew a fresh graduate who has no clue whatsoever what his future is going to look like. He moves back home with his parents, shares a room with his younger brother David (played by Evan Assante) and is stuck working at a hot-dog outlet in a dead-end mall. While he aims to ultimately join his college girlfriend in Barcelona where she is pursuing her career (they’re clearly not on the same page), at present, he’s required to accompany David to boring bar mitzvah parties. That’s where he strikes up a conversation with Domino (played by Dakota Johnson), a beautiful woman and her shy daughter Lola (played by Vanessa Burghardt) and takes it upon himself to not only get them on the dance floor but get the entire party started. He truly is smooth. One thing leads to another and he gets the brilliant offer to put his talents to use as a “party starter”. And so begins a series of bar mitzvahs and events that will make you fall deeper in love with the film’s characters.

Dakota Johnson and Cooper Raiff dial up the charm in this wholesome film about falling in love and growing up in the process.

Raiff is hands-down adorable as Andrew and when Johnson’s Domino calls him the “sweetest guy” it’s so easy to believe her. Hosting bar mitzvah parties isn’t the most glamourous job but Andrew makes it look so fun, it’s hard not to join in. And while awkward kids are instantly drawn to him, his eyes search for Domino. No points for guessing, but he falls for her in a wide-eyed, puppy love kind of way that will melt your heart. Meeting her and Lola is the biggest perk of his sweet new gig. When he isn’t party-starting, he is babysitting Lola and basically looking for ways in which he could be of help. While this Prince Charming has flaws, his ability to be vulnerable isn’t one of them. Obviously, Domino is impressed with just how kind he is to her kid and how welcome he makes the mother and daughter duo feel. Dakota Johnson who is fresh off her Lost Daughter success, plays the elusive dream girl role so well, it’s impossible not to fall for her. As Domino, she takes on a woman with layers and complexities that go far beyond relationship troubles like having a fiancé who is out of town a lot for work. As a young single mother charged with taking care of an autistic kid, she doesn’t have it easy and she admits she’s depressed a lot. Their stark differences and the life stages they are in make the budding romance between Andrew and Domino complicated. A little more than the former’s openly affectionate gaze will have you believe. But their crackling chemistry is undeniable.

Cha Cha Real Smooth is a heartwarming tale with a fair share of tearjerker moments. It realistically understands love and heartbreak. Raiff writes from a uniquely observant place which makes the story even more endearing. Andrew has had several heartaches starting with his first crush all the way back in school which ends with his mother (Leslie Mann) lovingly consoling him. While Andrew and Domino are the lead pair, each supporting character in the film seems to have the potential of taking over the story, that’s just how well they are written and performed. With an authentic voice like that, it’s unsurprising that the simple plot is loaded with meaning.


Cha Cha Real Smooth feels like a warm hug in the form of a film. It is so much more than an overly optimistic lovestruck guy in love with an attractive but lonesome older woman. It reflects on familiar experiences through a new lens that is sure to kickstart more discussions about Cooper Raiff’s prowess as a young auteur. It helps that Dakota Johnson and Raiff are so pure and easy to love, I could watch them attend bar mitzvahs endlessly. If this film is a crowd-pleaser at Sundance (it won the Audience Award) it’s for all the right reasons.

Cha Cha Real Smooth premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Apple has landed a deal for the film’s release.

SEE ALSO: Sundance ‘FRESH’ Review: Sebastian Stan Is Unhinged In This Jaw-Dropping Horror Rom-Com

Cover image: Sundance Film Festival


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