Gritty, grungy and wickedly pleasurable, Patti Cake$ is a downbeat rags tale about a blue collar rap wannabe. Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, a.k.a. Killa P. (Australian newcomer Danielle Macdonald), has had it with life in her rundown New Jersey hometown. At 23 she is ready to hit the road and make a play for the kind of musical immortality that her rap hero O-Z enjoys.
But plain and plus-sized Patti is stuck at home with her wheelchair-bound grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) and bitter, boozy mother (Bridget Everett). When she gets caught up in a parking-lot freestyle battle and demolishes the competition, the thrill of victory makes escape from a lifetime of tending bar and cleaning up other people’s messes seem possible. Patti will do whatever it takes to grab onto her dream. With the help of her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), mysterious musician Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) and her loving Nana, she leads a charge against the haters, unpaid bills and broken dreams that are holding her back.
An origin story for an imaginary hip-hop heroine who deserves to exist, Patti Cake$ deftly straddles the line between fantasy and reality – just like Patti herself. One of the most anticipated movies at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Patti Cake$ has its roots in writer and director Geremy Jasper’s post-college years. That was a time when he was living in his parents’ home, helping to care for an ailing grandparent and scraping by on a series of demoralising food-service gigs. His own sense that life was speeding past him informs the story of Patti Cake$.
Jasper says Patti is a contemporary, female version of his younger self. It is the characters as well as the script that are the key ingredients of a good film and what an eclectic bunch you have here! Individually and collectively they have a great deal to offer. So much so that the rap theme – although consequential – is no longer the main game. In other words, this is a pic you can appreciate regardless of whether or not that form of music does it for you.
I particularly appreciated the representation of Macdonald as the overweight, pilloried outsider. Her fellow band members too were noteworthy, while mum and nanna had their own times to shine. Although hardly a rap aficionado, I still found much to like in the soundtrack (the original music and songs were also created by the writer and director of the piece), a couple of numbers in particular.
As an anti-authoritarian, against the odds story, Patti Cake$ has both heart and soul. While it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I really liked what I saw.
Rated M, it scores a 7½ out of 10.
Director: Geremy Jasper
Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Siddharth Dhananjay, Danielle MacDonald, Bridget Everett
Release Date: 14 September 2017
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television