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‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’: Indie Rom-Com Scores Sweet Ending, Charms Sundance

ES Staff  |  Indie Comedies

In the early weeks of the pandemic, the virtual premiere of his first film, "S#!% home," was changed. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at SXSW 2020. The 2022 Sundance Film Festival made alterations for the Omicron version, requiring Cha Cha Real Smooth's virtual premiere. As true love comedies about timing, serendipity, and the unexplainable delight of connection, perhaps their difficult rise to fame is thematically apt.

As in the best coming-of-age romances, everything seemed to work out. Cha Cha Real Smooth received the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award and was bought by Apple TV+ for $15 million. It's presently streaming and in some cinemas as of June 17.

Raiff called viewing the film to an audience at the Chicago Critics Film Festival in May "wonderful." Raiff stated it's why he makes movies.

Raiff plays Andrew, a new college graduate who can't decide what to do with his life in Cha Cha Real Smooth. He returns home with his mom (Leslie Mann) and stepdad (Brad Garrett) and becomes a "party starter" during his brother David's (Evan Assante) bar and bat mitzvahs.

Lola, a mother of an autistic child named Domino (Dakota Johnson), meets Andrew there (Vanessa Burghardt). Andrew and Domino's chemistry sparks despite her absence. Cha Cha Real Smooth is a sensitive, surprisingly complex story about growing up.

Raiff remarked, "Domino was the first thing I started with" She's the mother of a crippled child, and her life is determined by his. It was interesting for her to encounter someone in a stage of life she hadn't reached. Andrew should provide her life and comfort of mind.

Cha Cha Real Smooth features many markers of an independent romance, but a more subtle emotional narrative. Raiff and Andrew share a tight bond with their mothers and a large age gap with their younger siblings, but Raiff set out to portray a flawed protagonist. Raiff joked that he didn't like anything about his character. Andrew's whole business is asking questions and chatting. It shows an absence of a center and a longing to occupy another's world."

Andrew's outer sensitivity hides how much inside work he still needs to do, which he understands during the movie. Raiff said, "I like his direction. I love when he says, "I have no sense of self and I'll try to find it."

Raiff praises Dakota Johnson as a critical team member, calling her his "ghost director" due to the multiple duties he had to perform as an actor, writer, and director. She urged him to add interesting blocking to Andrew and Domino's dialogue sequences, which led to a memorable ice pop scene. Mid-scene, they needed to change a scripted scene of physical intimacy. Raiff: "We were in sync." She helped develop the film from the start. Our stories were told."

Raiff loves all of his co-stars, including Vanessa Burghardt and Leslie Mann. His entire creative process seems to be influenced by this warm feeling, from developing characters he loves ("I love everything about them") to working with performers to merge their distinctive traits with their parts. "Do what they do best," he said. Finding the "smartest, funniest, and deadliest marriage" is crucial.

Raiff is less of an extrovert than Andrew, but he realized "directing is like party beginning," therefore it was easy to be a party starter on set. Raiff doubts he'd be a decent party starter in real life.

Cha Cha Real Smooth is in select theaters and on Apple TV+ starting June 17.