Greg and Zanna watch the emergence of a bright new talent.
Salve value: 5
Like many women I know, this week has left me feeling a bit despondent about the direction the world is taking and the diminishing hope our daughters have for a better future. Cha Cha Real Smooth was exactly the film I needed to give me a skerrick of hope for the next generation. If Cooper Raiff is in any way representative of the men of Generation Z, he's allowed a seat on my Fantasy Supreme Court. At just 25, he wrote, directed and stars in what is undoubtedly the sweetest film of the year.
The film tells the story of a recent college graduate and probable love addict who, unsure of what he wants to do, finds himself working as a Bar Mitzvah hype person. I came extraordinarily close to doing this job when I lived in New York - you're paid to be the life of the party and get awkward teens and preteens grinding on the dance floor. Raiff's Andrew is far better at it than I would've been - he's exceptionally charming and fun. At one of these parties, he meets and befriends a young mother, Domino (Dakota Johnson), and her autistic teenage daughter, Lola (autistic actress Vanessa Burghardt). He begins babysitting Lola and, as he is wont to do, falls for the already engaged Domino while he's at it.
It's a small slice-of-life story about a deeply feeling young man who racks up soul mates like I rack up reusable masks. Andrew is a completely new male archetype for the screen. In previous iterations of a guy like this, Hollywood would've treated his sensitivity as his fatal flaw and something to overcome. Instead, Andrew's big heart is ultimately his superpower. He's the most endearing character you'll ever meet and did I mention funny? He's cornering Greg's market.
The pair of us must've looked like two heart-eyes emojis sitting on the couch because while I was busy falling for the relentlessly caring Andrew, Greg fell hard and fast for Johnson's Domino. She's very beguiling in this role, even though her character felt a little muddled at times. Initially, I felt the romance between Andrew and Domino didn't quite work but in retrospect, I realise it didn't quite work because the relationship didn't quite work. It's a necessary subversion of romantic expectations to serve the greater story.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is an incredibly earnest movie that's trying very hard to be good and nice and wholesome, and is succeeding. I cried a lot. It's not a perfect film but it's certainly a syrupy salve for the soul.
The spectacularly named Cooper Raiff is a young genius, a shining light in the unrelenting grey of mainstream cinema, a bringer of new energy to a tired form, a precociously gifted perceiver of the nature of relationships and life in general. I genuflect in his direction and I acknowledge the arrival of a giant comedic talent in that most confrontational of forms: youth. He is, unacceptably, 25.
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This movie, so sweet, so funny, so fresh and vibrant is not just written and directed by Raiff, but he is also its star, not just in the sense that he plays the main character, but in that so much of the movie gets its distinctive tone from his brilliant delivery of his own excellent lines. This is a movie that succeeds and appeals because of its tone, which is established by Raiff in the first five minutes in a way that made me sit up straighter on the couch, feeling lighter and more engaged, feeling a lifting of the heaviness of the world, putting a smile on my face. This feeling is not the only reason to watch a movie but it's one I'm particularly attracted to.
The development of Raiff's character's relationship with his love interest Domino, played by Dakota Johnson, is unpredictable, morally complex, often confounding and, as a result, absorbing. Johnson's character, too, is unbelievably appealing. It became apparent to me later, when Zanna told me to stop going on about it, that I had probably fallen in love with her.
Raiff's character is a directionless dude in his early 20s, living with his parents and working in a mall at a fast-food chain called Meat Sticks, which is a little hard to believe given that he's charming, smart, funny, has empathy off the charts, radiates charisma, can command a room, and has a smile that will destroy you. Having said that, whenever I'm tempted to believe in notions like realism, I think of the time a Nasa astronaut stood accused of driving 1400km to pepper spray a love rival while wearing a nappy.
Anyway, we come to the movies to remove ourselves from reality: to laugh, cry, be moved and be awed. On rare occasions, if we're very lucky, we get to do this while basking in the glow of a bright new talent destined to create many hours of such entertainment for however many years we have left before we're enslaved by Google's AI and forced to spend our waking hours doing its ironing.
Cha Cha Real Smooth is streaming now on Apple TV+.