PATTI CAKE$ (USA/15A/109 mins)
Directed by Geremy Jasper. Starring Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddarth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty.
THE PLOT: Patricia (Danielle Macdonald) is an overweight twentysomething scraping a living in New Jersey. She lives with her mother Barb (Bridget Everett), a former singer who thinks she and her daughter look like sisters. Also living with them is Patricia’s acerbic Nan (Cathy Moriarty). The glamour may have faded away for Barb with age, but she still thinks she’s got it where it counts. She barely has time to notice Patricia’s burgeoning talent as a rap singer, instead choosing to dismiss it as noise. Styling herself as Patti Cake$ AKA Killah P, Patricia is a wordsmith with a talent for street poetry. The local youths may dismiss her as ‘Dumbo’, but loyal friend Jheri (Siddarth Dhananjay) and quiet ‘Antichrist’ Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) join her for some mean beats. Together with Nan they style themselves as PBNJ. Glory awaits Patricia, if she has the nerve to take it… THE VERDICT: New Jersey native Geremy Jasper’s feature debut has been getting rave reviews since its debut at Sundance earlier this year. Nominated for the Grand Jury prize, it’s a clear winner that holds true to its characters, environment and message. It’s a relatively simple story of youthful ambition – that of making those first tentative steps to stardom, one song at a time. The story is built around the flawed character of Patricia. She’s no angel, nor should she be. She hasn’t had the easiest upbringing, but she has a family that loves her. She takes the scorn from local rappers, even if it can be demeaning. Being both white and female, she has a double challenge ahead of her if she wants to prove her street cred.
Jasper’s excellent script has an authentic, gritty New Jersey feel to it. There’s little attempt at sugar coating, instead presenting the characters as they are, warts and all. However, that’s not to say that it’s difficult to watch. If anything, it’s the opposite. It’s joyful, funny and loaded with deeper meanings. Patricia pours her heart and soul into her rap lyrics – sometimes naughty, sometimes painful, sometimes uplifting. Life is messy and doesn’t come with an instruction manual. This particularly comes to the fore in the beautifully written relationship between Patricia and Barb. A lesser film would portray Barb as a monster. Here, she’s misguided and lost in her own faded youth, while Patricia is marching towards stardom. With a pinch of reality of course.
It takes actors of real gutsiness to play these characters and Jasper has cast some real finds here. Australian actress Macdonald digs deep to find Patricia’s inner resourcefulness, keeping the character hopeful but grounded. A stand-out scene involves a rap battle which escalates quickly, but Macdonald keeps her cool. It’s a winning performance that never loses sight of what makes Patricia tick. Even the smaller roles, like that of veteran actress Moriarty, shine. The closing scenes feature a perfectly-judged moment which brings all the story threads together without feeling forced or sentimental. ‘Patti Cake$’ is an American Rap-sody of sorts. Enthusiastic and joyful, it’s a musical treat for the soul as well as the ears. RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor