UK Release Date: 1st September 2017
Runtime: 107 minutes
Director: Geremy Jasper
Writer: Geremy Jasper
Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty
Synopsis: A plus-sized girl with a penchant for rapping joins forces with some similarly outcast friends to make a mixtape and attempts to crack the music world, while paying her nan’s medical bills and keeping her mother happy.
When you think about rapping and hip-hop music on the big screen, you probably think about 8 Mile or Straight Outta Compton. You almost certainly don’t think of an Australian woman doing a New Jersey accent and rapping next to a skinny Asian man. Patti Cake$ is here to prove you wrong. It’s a fierce, funny movie with a dynamite central performance at its heart and a mother-daughter relationship that allows for an interesting exploration of the nature of dreams and how idealism disappears with age. There’s also an array of killer tunes you’ll leave the cinema humming and won’t be able to get out of your head for days.
Patti (Danielle Macdonald) is an aspiring rapper living in New Jersey, where she spends her time freestyling with buddy Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) while working several jobs to help pay for her grandmother’s (Cathy Moriarty) medical fees. At an open mic evening, the duo come across musically talented, but bizarre performer Basterd the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie) and they decide to make a mixtape together. Meanwhile, Patti’s mother Barb (Bridget Everett) constantly tries to pull Patti back to reality, having seen her own musical dreams fall apart.
People tend to look down on cinema that looks to be straightforwardly crowd-pleasing. Hidden Figures was seen as a sentimental, obvious choice for the Oscars and similar movies are often slammed as taking the easy route. With its raucous, feel-good hype as a result of it sweeping out of Sundance with a big money deal, Patti Cake$ had a mountain to climb to match up to what we had been told about it. Thankfully, Geremy Jasper‘s film doesn’t so much climb that mountain as smash it to pieces and call it a weak-ass motherfucker. It’s a sweet-natured tale with edges where it needs them, culminating in a crescendo that had me walking on air as I left the cinema.
Danielle Macdonald is at the heart of everything, with a committed performance as Patti. She learned to rap for the film and this manifests in Patti’s raw, imperfect style on the microphone, which enhances her character. This isn’t someone with preternatural gifts; it’s someone who works exceptionally hard in order to excel at what they love. This rubs up brilliantly against Bridget Everett’s character – an incredible singing talent who once belted out power ballads like Bonnie Tyler on steroids, but has now almost forgotten her dreams and only comes to life when she grabs the mic in the corner of a grim karaoke bar. It’s a tremendously realised mother-daughter relationship, contrasting Patti’s idealism with the “reality’s a bitch, ain’t she?” cynicism of her jaded, pragmatic mother.
This is a film set in a world where good fortune is as important as talent. We get the inevitable moment of creative alchemy when the ragtag bunch of performers find some approximation of a compelling tone, but it looks set to come to nothing until a chance encounter bears a morsel of fruit for the musicians. This is less a film about working hard towards a big moment than about sticking it out so that you’re ready to seize that moment when it eventually does come around. It’s not that these delightfully off-kilter characters – Mamoudou Athie in particular is a taciturn revelation – deserve success more than anyone else, but we like them enough that we want them to achieve their dreams.
Patti Cake$ is a film that, for most of its running time, is a conventional underdog story. It’s certainly not a film that seeks to push boundaries with regards to its characters or its narrative. However, it does benefit from a selection of charming, bewitching performances and some wildly entertaining musical sequences. The mother-daughter bond at the movie’s heart is intense, believable and, ultimately, as uplifting as anything I have seen in a cinema this year. Come for the rapping, stay for the heart that beats every bit as powerfully as any hip-hop track.
Pop or Poop?
Killer performances from breakout star Danielle Macdonald and Bridget Everett are enough to rescue Patti Cake$ from the rather generic trappings of its rise to fame narrative. It’s a small-town tale with a big heart and there’s real charm to the way it depicts Patti’s struggle to get respect on the music scene. I didn’t fully get on board with it to begin with, but its final punch is simply euphoric.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.