Finally, a non-nepotism baby that tells the tale of the pangs of life's unknown.
Though "Cha Cha Real Smooth" could, in fact, fit under the guise of yet another coming-of-age film that romanticizes turbulent issues, it has a unique rawness that does not tie everything up into a perfect bow at the end. Ultimately, it deserves its own subgenre that probably includes Greta Gerwig's "Ladybird," too.
The film follows 22-year-old Andrew (played by Cooper Raiff, who also served as writer and director), a recent college graduate, who returns home to his waspy New Jersey town. He is determined to save up enough money to live in Barcelona, Spain given his girlfriend heads there for an academic scholarship. However, his invite seems to have gotten lost in the mail. Welcomed by his bipolar mom (played by Leslie Mann) and tough stepdad (played by Brad Garrett) constantly berating him on his life choices, Andrew is attempting to figure out who he is and who he wants to be.
Andrew is lanky, sarcastic and loveable; his character is a breath of fresh air that was desperately needed.
Commencing with a flashback of a prepubescent, lovestruck Andrew, who is immediately heartbroken by a party host, the film sets up a premonition of what will happen later in his life: Andrew's luck with girls will be few and far between. Upon his arrival back home, he immediately scores a job at a mall restaurant while slowly stumbling into the void of not knowing his next step. Nonetheless, he does know one thing; he knows how to make sure everyone has a good time. His 12-year-old brother, David (played by Evan Assante), allows him to take a blast into the past and chaperone him at a bar mitzvah.
After finally getting all the Gen-Z tweens out of their seats and dancing to the 1979 pop hit "Funkytown" by Lipp Inc, the parents, mostly the mothers, swarm Andrew and drown him in corny compliments. They immediately offer him a job as the "party starter" for all future bar or bat mitzvahs.
What was perhaps the most intriguing about seeing Andrew in this space was his immediate observation of 30-something-year-old Domino (played by Dakota Johnson), a cool, young mom whose wardrobe deserves its own discussion, and her daughter, Lola (played by Vanessa Burghardt), a noticeably older girl compared to her classmates. Once the small talk dwindles, Domino reveals that Lola is on the autism spectrum and does not take to dancing or interacting with others. These things change simultaneously once Andrew gets her to slow dance. Andrew forms a dynamic bond with this mother-daughter duo: one that seems a little bit too fictional, but serves as an important reminder of the power of inclusivity.
It is no surprise Andrew falls for a recently engaged Domino; after all, she is an enchanting free spirit who is also played by Dakota Johnson. As the film progresses, we witness him try to handle these feelings as he continues spotting her at these festive gatherings where he has made a controversial name for himself because he is either cursing out snobby parents or playing Cardi B's infamous "WAP."
Andrew's charisma is felt by all, especially David and Lola. Attempting to be the knowledgeable older brother, Andrew sheds his wisdom based on his own experiences – with the majority of them being made up – in hopes of getting David to have his first kiss. Meanwhile, as Domino continues doing "adult" things, Andrew becomes Lola's babysitter. Their relationship blossoms, but shortly dwindles when Domino fires him (not out of malice of course, but to make sure Andrew gets to experience the highs and lows of his 20s, something she never got).
Still, "Cha Cha Real Smooth" did have a decree of the formulaic indie vibe with its underground song choices and close-up shots of crying characters.
Nonetheless, this does not dismiss its ability to weave in mental illness, the stigma around autism, tween awkwardness, heartbreak and the difficulties of post-grad life seamlessly into one worthwhile film.
Lauren Gregorio is an Online Writer for Rowdy Magazine. In her free time, you can find her either blasting a rotation of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Taylor Swift's discography into her ears thanks to her wired headphones, taking naps, making year-long plans or re-watching Modern Family.