Tracker Pixel for Entry

​Raiff Asks Johnson to Dance in ‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’

Cinema | July 20th, 2022

By Greg Carlson

gregcarlson1@gmail.com

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” is writer/director/actor Cooper Raiff’s follow-up to “Shithouse,” and the titles of both films disguise, or at least misdirect, the earnest and heartfelt positivity of Raiff’s hip-to-be-square worldview.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January prior to a limited theatrical run and a streaming home on Apple+ this June, feels a lot like a spiritual sequel to “Shithouse.” Raiff’s recent Tulane grad Andrew has much in common with “Shithouse” freshman Alex. Both young men (Raiff was born in 1997!) wear their hearts on their sleeves, rely on supportive moms, struggle with the “growing up is hard to do” transition into adulthood, and yearn for romances that seem to be just out of reach.

Raiff’s writing is built around the willingness of his characters to expose their vulnerabilities. Many viewers have responded enthusiastically to the filmmaker’s investment in the humane and the candid – “Shithouse” received the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at South by Southwest and “Cha Cha Real Smooth” picked up an audience award at Sundance.

Others have not been convinced. Manohla Dargis, who “didn’t believe a single second” of it, blasted “Cha Cha” as “American indie entertainment at its most canned and solipsistic.” Michael Phillips, Derek Smith, and Bilge Ebiri also torched the movie, taking aim at protagonist Andrew.

Certainly, one person’s interpretation of emotional openness might be another person’s definition of what Phillips calls “creeping smugness and self-regard,” but I think Raiff is a legitimate addition to the broad group of artists identified with the New Sincerity trend as popularized by David Foster Wallace and Jim Collins (and frequently applied as a descriptor to the work of Wes Anderson).

Stylistically, Raiff is much closer to the realistic, low-budget DIY aesthetics practiced by booster/supporter Jay Duplass than he is to the painstaking miniatures imagined by Anderson, but both clearly eschew cynicism and, to paraphrase Wallace’s ideas on the subject, risk accusations of sentimentality and softness.

Dylan Gelula was brilliant opposite Raiff in “Shithouse,” and Dakota Johnson is equally beguiling as Domino in “Cha Cha Real Smooth.” Johnson has recently made a series of excellent career choices in front of and behind the camera (she is one of the producers of “Cha Cha”). Her quiet, melancholy Domino has lived through her 20s while Andrew has only started his, but the two apparent opposites are drawn together through several curious similarities.

To the movie’s great benefit and the viewer’s relief, Raiff skips anything like a psychological assessment or explanation, but we can easily discern that both Andrew and Domino are longtime caregivers who labor emotionally to meet the needs of the other before the needs of the self.

“Cha Cha Real Smooth” values the connections (and the temporary disconnections) between people deeply and unfailingly committed to each other. Mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, and step-parents are all integral moving parts in Raiff’s well-calibrated machine.

If coming-of-age stories are your catnip, and you enjoy the secondhand embarrassment of painfully awkward social interactions, and you ache at the bittersweet hopelessness of right place-wrong time sparks, then make a date with “Cha Cha Real Smooth.” 

Recently in:

By Laura Simmonssabrina@hpr1.com The recent overturn of Roe v. Wade allowed North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley to sign North Dakota’s trigger law, making abortion illegal starting July 28, 2022. Organizations providing…

By Melissa Van Der Stad  m.forfargo@gmail.comphoto credit: Keith Hapip, Jr.One North Dakota family is in the midst of an ongoing dispute with the…

July 29-30Newman Outdoor FieldSummer doesn’t get much better than when you’re Blues Festin’ out on the ballfield where the RedHawks play. Thirteen bands over two days. Lotsa food and awesome people. Friday’s lineup,…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comOur Opinion: Dissolve partisan lines and elevate the voice of the people.As cliche as it sounds, who would have thought that when we ”sprang ahead” into daylight savings time in March, we’d…

By Ed Raymondfargogadfly@gmail.com Remembering Two Men Whimpering in the Broken Jaw of Our Lost KingdomIn 1284, Hamelin, Germany hired a rat killer to rid the residents of the flea carrier bringing them the Black Plague. For some…

Well shiver me timbers. After weeks of sampling some of the finest drinks in F-M from more bars than we could shake a belaying pin at, the results of High Plains Reader’s 6th Annual Cocktail Showdown are in! For nine weeks,…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.comWhile the Fargo-Moorhead area offers many great things to dine on these days, there are some hopeful establishments that would make for big improvements to the local food scene here.The first…

By Michael Strikemichaelstrike.solo@gmail.comBindle Fest is coming back to Fargo, and the third time's the charm for this sprawling DIY fest hosted across the Fargo/Moorhead area. Since its first inception in 2016, it's been an…

By Greg Carlsongregcarlson1@gmail.comFilmmaker and educator Raymond Rea, who recently retired from Minnesota State University Moorhead, made an indelible impact on the Fargo-Moorhead film community. In 2008, Rea arrived in…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comArtwork: Woodcut by Danielle Gravon titled "Allegory of Fargo Winter I"On June 18, the Rourke will be holding their 62nd annual Midwestern Preview, the date celebrating the opening anniversary of…

By Jessica M. Hawkesjmhawkes84@gmail.comIt wasn’t long after the founding of the railroad and river town of New Rockford that entertainment venues started to put down their own roots. Its population bolstered by booms of nearby…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comCharlie Berens is a man of many hats. The creator of the “Manitowoc Minute” is a newsman, comedian, writer and musician. We had the opportunity to speak with the Wisconsin native about his new…

By Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comSpring is here (mostly), and our area is buzzing with people eager to get back out and about -- many newly vaccinated and feeling a bit safer. Partnering with Jade Events, Fargo Brewing is just…

by Laurie J Bakeremsdatter@gmail.com Part of modern yoga is participating in the world around us. We live in a time of upheaval in society and nature, and of great suffering in humans of all ages. Most of us perceive this suffering…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comLehr Mayor and Council Members Donate City Salaries To Save Legion HallEvery rural community has at least one social space that holds multiple generations of memories and has remained a social…

By Madeline Lukemadelineluke@ymail.comSonja Kaye, of CLEAN in Fargo gave the third of four talks on climate change issues specific to North Dakota for the “What in the World Series,” in Valley City on April 5. While the topic…