Patti Cake$: A Sincere, Quirky Underdog Thrill
Review by Aaron Haughton
Patti Cake$ is the empowering underdog story of 23 year old aspiring rapper Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a Killa P, a.k.a Patti Cake$ (or “Dumbo” Dumbrowski as she unaffectionately referred to by assholes). She’s a big girl with a big mouth and even bigger dreams of rap superstardom. Stuck in her hometown of Lodi, New Jersey, Patti wades through a sea of haters, which even includes her own mother, as she strives to crack the surface of the rap scene in hopes of leaving behind her hometown wasteland forever.
This film marks a breakthrough for both Geremy Jasper, debut writer/director, and Danielle Macdonald, who delivers an awe-inspiring, genuine performance that claws at our pathos in all the right ways. In a lot of aspects, the film feels like a less crazy, less offensive, narratively cohesive and fluid Harmony Korine film. Another apt comparison would be the female version of 8 Mile with more heart and less budget. It's not a perfect film, and you've seen it before, but not quite like this. It definitely veers into some very obvious directions, but it's also a pretty damn fun ride, too.
There's a lot to be admired here, from Danielle Macdonald's obvious rap chops (which, fun fact, she had little to no knowledge of hip hop or rapping prior to the film, but when you watch it, you'd hardly know it), to its obvious quirk and oddity -- a hip hop crew consisting of a fat white girl, her sick, wheelchair-ridden Nana, her BFF of Indian decent, Jheri, and black atheist beat master, Basterd. I really loved the gorgeous dream/fantasy sequences which are peppered with dense green (or yellow/gold) neons, fog and some truly fresh, visually impressive imagery. Jasper hits you with one of these beauties right out the gate, which really pulls you in right away, before hitting you with the crusty, poverty-stricken life that Patti actually inhabits.
The performances here are great across the board, and you can tell that every actor really cares about the picture and brings their A game. Even though, Danielle Macdonald tends to eclipse everyone else on screen, Bridget Everett shines out as the alcoholic mother, and Cathy Moriarty (Nana) and Siddharth Dhananjay (Jheri) illuminate the screen with both dramatic and comedic performances. The relationship and chemistry between Moriarty and Macdonald feels very authentic and effortless; I really loved any instance where they were on screen together. Nana was one of my favorite characters because, even in her sickness, she's supportive as fuck and down for the ride.
What may come as a surprise is that the story is one that's close to writer/director Jasper's heart. While he was never a rapper, he was a frontman for a semi-popular indie group, The Fever, and he did grow up in New Jersey under the notion that escape was out of reach. “I wanted to get out for as long as I can remember,” Jasper told IndieWire. “I wanted to express something musically, but felt very constrained by the town and I was 100% convinced I’d be stuck there for the rest of my life.” Jasper uses the music and lyrics to not only convey Patti's ability to hold her own in the rap game, but to showcase her disdain for her hometown and her desire to escape its clutches. The sincerity definitely comes across and can be felt. Plus, I think everyone loves and can identify with a good underdog story, unless you're in the 1% or something.
Through Patti's long and winding journey, we see her grow and become more confident in her abilities, all of which culminate in a pretty thunderous third act, where she truly proves to be the "underdog in the thunderdome." Her last song is an amalgam of everything we've experienced with her, a fierce hip hop eruption of deep, sincere feeling, that ties up some narrative strings and may possibly even move you to tears.
My quibbles with the film are pretty minor and mostly stem from a dumb weed smoking scene, which gives way to silly hallucinations. I also wish it wouldn't have succumbed to the 8 Mile prep-yourself-in-the-mirror scene, but it does. However, even though I was able to call nearly all the narrative twists and turns along the way, the film's style, presentation, honesty, and raw emotion are enough to override the mark and should keep you interested and emotionally invested.
I would definitely encourage you to check this one out when the film makes its US release on August 18th, if you're able to. It being an indie film may limit its release to larger cities with a shorter box office run, but I would definitely suggest you buy the ticket and take the ride. Fans of hip hop may instantly champion it, but I don't think you have to be a hip hop enthusiast to enjoy the film.
Rating: 4 chain smoking, ski mask wearing wheelchair grannies outta 5.
What did you think? Are you interested in seeing the film? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!