One of the pleasures of watching movies is spotting a newcomer who shines. That is the case with Cha Cha Real Smooth,”whose stupid title comes from DJ Casper’s Cha Cha Slide, heard ad nauseam at receptions. Cooper Raiff wrote, directed, and stars in this awfully sweet film. To call a movie “sweet” is to damn it with the faintest of praise. But Cha Cha Real Smooth really is sweet.
Granted it’s yet one more film about Peter Pan men who won’t grow up despite age and education. But Cha Cha Real Smooth is appealing because Raiff is appealing. His voice is bass and his hair is dark on head and face. He plays Andrew. This 22-year-old still lives with his tween bro, David, not just in the same house but in the same room. David looks up to Andrew, who advises him on his first kiss.
Because of his little brother, Andrew ends up at a bar mitzvah party. There he meets a lost lass, named Domino without explanation. He is drawn to her, but turns to her tween daughter. Lola is autistic, obsessed with cube puzzles and noise-cancelling ear muffs. He understands the girl does not understand Domino.
Andrew becomes a party maker for bar and bat mitzvahs, getting everyone to dance to the titular tune. This job balances his jerky one at a fast-food mall eatery called Meat Sticks, where his degree from Tulane has landed him.
Raiff makes the most of the character — never apologizing for being a type, just making the type tolerable and even lovable. Evan Assante, with his curly crown, creates a wonderful little brother, and Vanessa Burghardt, as autistic as her character, plays Lola. Dakota Johnson as Domino is not always believable as the miserable mother, but at least she’s 50 shades away from grey. Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond heartens the step-father, and Leslie Mann wraps herself in the role of Andrew’s loving mother.
“Cha Cha Real Smooth” addresses late-maturing men but also pre-adolescent boys, bullying, being responsible, and having hook-ups. It manages to be realistic while defending kindness and patience. The film drives plot and character without sophistication. But Cha Cha Real Smooth is just so sweet.