‘Cha Cha Real Smooth’ Review: The Boy in the Bubble

Andrew’s path to adulthood largely involves his friendship with Domino (an unconvincing Dakota Johnson), an older, melancholic single mother of a teenager who has autism, Lola (an appealing, spikily real Vanessa Burghardt, who also has autism). Andrew meets them at a bar mitzvah where he’s chaperoning his brother. Andrew notices her straight away, you bet, and before long they’re beaming at each other, exchanging small talk and hitting the dance floor. Women smile at Andrew a lot; at one point, a gaggle of mothers from the bar mitzvah follow him into the parking lot and hire him as “their motivational dancer,” a.k.a. party starter.

Soon enough Andrew is playing M.C. at bar and bat mitzvahs, rocking them as he fumbles through the rest of his life. Raiff uses these parties for visual energy and comedy, and while he doesn’t deploy overt stereotypes he flirts with them. Certainly, it’s hard to see him wringing laughs as readily out of, say, confirmations or quinceañeras, much less staging a brawl at one, as he does here, ruining a bar mitzvah (for a kid named Benjamin Schindler, no less) so Andrew can have a teachable moment. As if to reassure the audience that it’s all in good fun, Domino says in one scene, “Sometimes I really envy Judaism.” “Same,” Andrew chirps.

Raiff also wrote and helped produce “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” so he is clearly ambitious. But if he has something to say about life, it’s not apparent from this movie. It’s derivative and unpersuasive, and as pandering as any big studio soft sell; it’s filled with stylistic clichés (hovering camerawork, mewling songs), cardboard characters, silly dialogue and absurd narrative contrivances, starting with Domino, a trite male fantasy who’s only a vessel for Andrew’s narcissism. Raiff shrewdly complicates this cliché a touch, though, again, only to exploit it. Their relationship never makes sense; but, then, neither does most of the movie.

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