Candid Cinema

Sundance Film Festival: ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Normally coming-of-age films mainly surround teenagers in high school, but as society shifts and generation’s change, the real struggle in identifying who you are comes right after college. It’s the moment where you finish school and the thought of being a fully formed adult is what makes us all spiral. School is a security blanket for so many of us and then once we graduate, it’s like we’re just existing, trying to understand how any of this works. Every single decision we make after we graduate holds so much weight for us because if things don’t go right, our generation doesn’t see it as living, we see it as wasting time. We feel like there is no room for mistakes and that’s where the anxiety kicks in.

In Cooper Raiff’s Cha Cha Real Smooth, we meet Andrew (Cooper Raiff) who is fresh out of college and like the rest of us; he has no idea how to even move forward. Higher education failed to provide 22-year-old Andrew with a clear life path going forward, so he’s stuck back at home with his family in New Jersey. The one thing college did teach him is how to party and he uses those skills to be the perfect candidate for a job party-starting as the ‘Jig Conductor’ at the bar and bat mitzvahs of his younger brother’s classmates. When Andrew befriends a local mom, Domino (Dakota Johnson), and her daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), he finally discovers a future he wants, even if it might not be his own.

The reason I connected with Cha Cha Real Smooth is because of how kind and heartfelt the story is. There is just so much genuine love and kindness that radiates off Raiff’s character of Andrew and it’s just very infectious. You connect with Andrew on an emotional level within the first moments of meeting him. At 22-years-old we all find life confusing, but more specifically, we all find love confusing. The connection that Andrew has with Domino is hard to describe unless you’ve felt that deep, comforting connection with someone without even knowing them that well. Johnson and Raiff have great chemistry, which made their soulful connection more believable. As the story unfolds, we see that their relationship will inevitably take a toll on both of them, but the memories will last forever.

Cha Cha Real Smooth is a coming-of-age film that explores life after college and what the definition of a soul mate is. It’s an exploration of love at any age; whether it’s shown through his parents, his younger brother and his first girlfriend, an old high school flame, or a mother with a fiancée, love is most definitely complicated. But from what I’ve learned, it’s better to feel those emotions and say that you’ve loved with every single part of your soul, than to not have experienced it at all. Because even through a possible heartbreak, you did learn something and you will grow from it, but always look back at those special moments as something beautiful.

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