Sundance 2022: 'Cha Cha Real Smooth', 'Watcher' | Dramedy, Psychological Thriller | Capsule Reviews
CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH
Let's get this party started, shall we? Time to call 22-year-old Andrew (Cooper Raiff) for that because the parties are bar and bat mitzvahs and guests are bunch of young teens. And lest we forget, dance moves are mandatory because this is Cha Cha Real Smooth, a romantic-ish dramedy starring, directed, written and co-edited by Raiff as his sophomore effort. Andrew indeed finds himself getting gigs as a party host after returning from college and working at a fast-food place. Since the parties often have mostly same people in attendance, he finds interest in Domino (Dakota Johnson), a young mother of Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) who has autism. The film follows Andrew and Domino's connection, if they are in fact soulmates and what you'd do if you happen to find one.
''Cha Cha'' has an irresistible vibe about it right from the get-go, Andrew as a character being a kind of softball for audiences and to Raiff as an actor but thankfully the film has few tricks up its sleeve. Most obvious one is delicate and subtle Johnson who is always one step ahead of everyone in her scenes with glances and little smirks, giving those scenes room to breathe in order to give the viewer time to soak everything in. Raiff and fellow editors Henry Heyes and Colin Patton, consciously or not, picked up on that and avoided the usual ''comedy flow'', instead finding their own flow that doesn't rely solely on comedic timing.
Raiff's style shows in the overall tone, not just because the writing is excellent but also because those previously mentioned aspects help to support that. There's poise in the writing since it doesn't try to answer the questions because the characters don't have the answers. One place where the filmmakers stumble in that regard is the music—both the soundtrack and score—as they try to guide the viewer way too much emotionally instead of giving you room to breathe like the actors do. When you have a script and cast like this, that's enough.
Smileys: Dakota Johnson, screenplay, tone, editing
Frowneys: Some issues with soundtrack and score
You get the deal; creepy situations in a foreign new place you just moved to, now it's just for us to find out what is actually going on. Chloe Okuno's first directorial effort on her own, Watcher, takes that setup and tries to put it into a psychological thriller format in order to make our spines tingle from the discomfort. Maika Monroe stars as Julia who moves to Bucharest with her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) as he gets an offer to work there since he speaks Romanian, Julia on the other hand doesn't. Soon after she starts to notice someone repeatedly watching her from a window across the street when she's alone. Julia ends up suspecting that the ''Watcher'' might also be linked to series of murders nearby.
Simply stating that the common framework in the premise is the reason why there's something missing here would be a copout because reinventing the wheel isn't necessary if there are enough distinct moments in the script itself. Writer Zack Ford's screenplay and Okuno's assembling of that are missing those, though, as there aren't really touches on the film that aren't obvious. Problems also amplify due to poor pacing which melts acts and sequences together too much, while scenes are dragged on for too long so that when things are supposed to be most tense, they are indistinguishable.
Fair chunk of the filmmaking is solid and there are other good parts like the casting which is top-notch. It's a great leading role for Monroe, Glusman works as a caring but a bit detached husband, Madalina Anea as neighbour Irina is an interesting new face and most of all the casting of ''Watcher'' is spot on (would probably be a spoiler to reveal, sorry). Okuno shows confidence as far as visuals and acting go, hopefully next time storytelling matches that.
Smileys: Casting, ending