Cooper Raiff follows up his SXSW award-winning Shithouse with Cha Cha Real Smooth, a film set on the Bar and Bat Mitzvah circuit.
My worst fear going into this film was that Dakota Johnson would be the latest non-Jewish actress starring as a Jewish woman. This turns out to not be the case, thank G-d. Because of this, we do not have to have that conversation all over again. Similarly, Raiff is not Jewish but he grew up in a heavily Jewish neighborhood and writes what he knows. Which, in this case, is attending a number of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. First, he does so as a twelve-year-old child and later as a party starter. Given the amount of Jewish readership, I wanted to get this part out of the way first.
Following the ten-year time jump to when Andrew (Cooper Raiff) is 22, he meets a 32-year-old woman, Domino (Dakota Johnson), at the first of many parties he attends that year. Domino’s daughter, Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), is autistic and Andrew ends up bonding with her. But in spite of this bond and Andrew’s feelings for older women, Domino is engaged to Joseph (Raúl Castillo). Once we learn of the engagement, it’s almost certain that the relationship isn’t going far. If she were already married, it would be a different story. But in any event, what is up with movies where young men are falling for women ten years older than them?!? I only bring this up in case this is pertinent information should you decide to watch the film.
When we meet Andrew, he’s living at home with his parents (Brad Garrett and Leslie Mann). He has no idea what he wants to do with his life other than travel to Spain. After Andrew bonds with Lola, it enables Domino to get some freedom back in her life. Parenting is never easy but it’s a full-time job. For Domino, this also means having to be a parent and deal with her own depression. That Lola is autistic means that Domino has to put more effort into parenting. One thing to note is that the film doesn’t really make a big deal out of Domino having depression. There may be a stigma in the general world out there but not in the film. At the end of the day, however, both Andrew and Domino are at different stages of life.
Despite both lead actors and their characters not being Jewish, the only thing that makes this film Jewish so to speak is its setting at Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties. In watching the film, it gives off the idea that parents of 12 and 13-year-old children are also invited to the parties. Where I come from, this is not always the case. It tends to happen when the parents are also friends with the parents of their children’s classmates. This is how it is in the community I grew up in and at other simchas through the years. Other communities might be different, of course. It should go without saying that Cooper Raiff is writing what he knows, which comes from a Jewish-adjacent perspective.
Cha Cha Real Smooth shows that Cooper Raiff’s star is on the rise.
EDIT: The more I think about Cha Cha Real Smooth, the more frustrated that I get. A non-Jewish filmmaker sets a film during the Bar and Bat Mitzvah circuit while largely erasing the Judaism out of it. It’s not just about the parties. Coming from a Conservative Judaism background meant spending a year learning the Torah and Haftorah. We never see this side of it, only the parties. Not once did I hear “Hava Nagila” on the soundtrack even though we see the chair being lifted while dancing. When Jews are portrayed on screen, it’s not always in a positive light. At one point, the Bar Mitzvah boy argues with Lola and she disappears into the hallway. The boy’s father equally gets into it with Andrew.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Cooper Raiff
CAST: Dakota Johnson, Cooper Raiff, Raúl Castillo, Odeya Rush, Evan Assante, Colton Osorio, Kelly O’Sullivan, introducing Vanessa Burghardt, with Brad Garrett and Leslie Mann
Cha Cha Real Smooth holds its world premiere during the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Dramatic Competition.
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