Film Review: Patti Cake$

 The irony of the Sundance film festival, year after year, is its incredible ability to showcase the struggle and hustle of so many dreams, being shattered, road-blocked and destroyed by so many memorable protagonists on the silver screen. Yet, when debut feature films and short films of uber-talented directors do make their way to Sundance, more often then not, the stories told are incredibly original and superb narratives of overcoming obstacles and persevering, despite what the stars have written for you; and what cards are dealt to you. 

Patti Cake$ is no different than many of the original films that come out of Sundance each and every year; films like Precious, Little Miss Sunshine and of course Whiplash showcase these incredible individuals and their inability to ever let up or give up.

Inevitably, Patti Cake$ will surely get direct comparisons to films like 8 Mile, Hustle & Flow and other coming-of-age rap stories manoeuvring the rags-to-riches story-arc, yet, despite each and one of these protagonist’s dabble with the idea of the American Dream, one of the strongest characteristics of Patti Cake$ is its use of modesty and sincerity within each and every frame of Patti Dombrowski’s (Danielle Macdonald) very unfair personal journey.

We get a very small yet appalling taste of the young twenty-three year old’s world, which includes having to care for an ailing grandmother (Cathy Moriarty), having to nurture a drunken, delusional, music seeking, partner desperate mother Barb (Bridget Everett), avoiding creditors, working long and hard hours to pay many of the bills of the household and all the while, still dream and work towards a career in rapping and MC-ing in an impoverish and dilapidated city of New Jersey. Luckily for Patti, despite being called Dumbo since childhood, she has the love and support from her one and only best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), who believes widely in Patti’s penmanship, rhymes and raps.

As the two navigate the very slim possibility of making it in the music business in a very unwelcoming art-community of the projects of New Jersey, Patti constantly fantasizes about the possibility of being signed and working with her dream rapper and musical idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), a spectacle MC whose most played material has mostly to do with booty-clapping, making money and banging bitches.

Aside from being overweight and not having the money, means or time to really tend to herself, Patti is constantly pushed by her bestie Jheri, who is always elevating Patti’s confidence by telling her that “her pen game is ridiculous” or that “all we need is a producer with the fire beats” in order for them to make it to the big leagues. Despite Patti’s long hours at a local diner and catering business on the side, and Jheri’s long hours at the local pharmacy, the two never stop writing and aspiring for their dreams, producing notebooks full of songs and rhymes.

Literally pushed and urged by Jheri, Patti, who assumes the pseudo names of Patti Cake$, and her most famous moniker Killa P, Patti is pitted in a rap battle against her high school crush and neighbourhood rap God Danny (McCaul Lombardi), a mean spirited white-boy, who uses his most hurtful material of dissing and rapping to put Patti’s moral down, using hurtful rhymes making fun of her social-economic status and of course, her physical appearance. Patti, who at first, seems worn down and ready to give up, is given a breath of life by Jheri, who gives her the strength to fight Danny back with her dope rhymes and lines, which in turn, gives her the confidence to pursue rapping a little bit longer, and allowing her to meet one of the only musically inclined people in her whole town, Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a reclusive outsider who wanders from town-to-town via train, despite having the most sophisticated musical equipment Patti and Jheri have ever seen.

Together, along with her dream-pushing nana, the quartet start the band, PBNJ, a name using each one of the four’s initial, and producing a small EP that allows Patti and company to share with other notable musical talent in the city, including a once-famed DJ and now radio host DJ French Tips (MC Lyte).

The funny thing is, while Patti Cake$ could easily be mistaken for being a generic coming of age rap-underdog story, the best talent the city of New Jersey has even seen, faces immeasurable odds and obstacles that constantly reaffirm the fact that, pursuing your dreams within the entertainment industry, is damn hard! No matter how much of a Boss Bitch Killa P tries to prove to the world that she is, Patti is forever just seen as the leader of a band of misfits who’s most reused line is how cold the real world really is. Whether it be reaffirmed by their family members, especially Patti’s mother Barb, a once promising lead-singer of a typical-large hair rock band in the eighties, Patti is determined to never quit, despite some hiccups including a disastrous first time recording sessions where her nerves, and some medicinal substances get the best of her.

Written and directed by first time filmmaker Geremy Jasper, Patti Cake$ come out of Sundance as a darling. Proclaimed as the most essential hero of the year, the film was received with nothing but love both at Sundance and Cannes. Mixing elements of the optimist with surreal elements deriving itself from the smoke, mirrors and bling of the very shiny and artificial music video world, Patti is always grounded in the very raw realities of low-income living; her struggle is never glorified, even the film’s ending, although you might think you know how it ends. Patti’s conquests and successes are always trumped by her failures and challenges. Whether it be getting performing gigs at strip-clubs or getting the opportunity to meeting very influential people in her life, Patti is almost always met with disappointment. Much like the performance of Gabourey Sidibe in Precious, almost a decade earlier, the true grace of Patti Cake$ is its star Danielle Macdonald.

Macdonald, who, unlike Marhsall Mathers, has never rapped a day in her life, becomes the true star of Patti Cake$. In addition to learning how to nail each and every intonations of the raps (all written by director/writer Geremy Jasper), also had to learn the New Jersey accent, despite her very heavy Australian accent. Macdonald is the true star of Patti Cake$. Like so many incredible performances before her, Macdonald seems to have a case of art imitating reality, proving that previous acting credits were all just a build up to this career-defining performance as one of 2017’s most gut-wrenching and lovable characters; a true personal inspiration. Macdonald shines as Patti; elevating her performances higher than anything Eminem did in 8 Mile.  

A notable mention should be given to Patti’s best friend Jheri, actor Siddharth Dhananjay, who brings most of the laughs and comedy of the film, without even having an acting credit before Patti Cake$. Dhananjay is the backbone that pushes Patti to become the person he always knew she could be. Jheri’s presence in the film is one of the most consistent highlights of Patti Cake$ through and through.

While Killa P rolls through the roughest streets of New Jersey, in her old, beat-up and almost broken Caddy, one can’t help but notice how beat, broken and worn out this very promising and talented young twenty-something really is. Mixing, producing and recording in a run-down and beaten shack in the gutter of local parks (appropriately named the Gates of Hell), pushing her EP’s at strip malls and on the streets, Killa P’s successes, no matter how major or minor they may seem to the audience, are only just a reflection of the very real successes of our own lives, no matter how small or big they may seem to ourselves, and the people around us. Patti Cake$ may not be the most wonderful, perfect or even my favourite film of 2017, but it sure does offer audiences, myself included, one of the most honest and prominent messages we may need as a society in the year 2017, and that is to keep your head up, because despite all the rejection, closed doors and mocking people may do, the will to succeed means nothing, if you find imagination and creativity to acknowledge the hero within yourself.

Move over Wonder Woman and Gal Gadot, Patti Cake$ and Danielle Macdonald proves to girls and women everywhere that the world its a cold world of vultures, you got to be strong with the weight on your shoulders because haters will hate and you cannot give up on that. Killa P is here to show off exactly what that Tuff love is all about!

Night Film Reviews: 8 Out of 10 Stars.

Is Patti Cake$ your peanut butter to your wonderbread? Are you feeling the tuff love? Did you love the music or hate the raps? Rhymes? Performances? Is Danielle Macdonald the next big thing? Leave all your raps, rhymes and dirt below! 

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