MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Patti Cake$’ is a charming, raw crowd-pleaser

Thanks to wonderful performances from Danielle Macdonald and Bridget Everett, this rap musical is sure to take one from the worst of moods to pure, unfiltered joy

| August 30, 2017

Rap is not something I am completely familiar with. My Spotify playlists are packed full of 20th century diva jams, early 2000s bubblegum pop and weird songs I hear in various movies I see. I have a friend, obsessed with rap and hip-hop, who will stop at nothing to get me into the genre, but no matter how hard he tries, I’m simply always going to choose the Spice Girls over Travis Scott. That’s not to say I don’t respect rap, as it, in its many forms, probably is one of the most creatively complicated forms of music existing today, which people don’t give it credit for, it just isn’t my style. Not being a part of the rap scene, I do at least know the controversy behind the inclusion of white rappers in the scene, with artists like Iggy Azalea and Macklemore taking heavy fire for culturally appropriating black culture in their music. There seems to be a fine line in rap and hip-hop between performing the music and actively appropriating the black culture which set it into place. Throughout all of “Patti Cake$,” our main character is constantly told to “act her race” simply for participating in rap. “Patti Cake$” is a film that opens the discussion and draws a more clear line of white people, and more specifically white women in rap, which, despite the film’s quality, is ballsy enough in itself.

That being said, it’s a good thing that “Patti Cake$” is an absolute delight.

Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, is a 23 year-old bartender living in Bergen County, New Jersey. Without any prospects and still living with her mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), a washed-up hairdresser constantly living out the days where she almost became a famous singer, as well as her Nana (Cathy Moriarty). Unbeknownst to her family, Patricia and her best friend, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), are obsessed with the rap scene and participate in it on their own accord every now and then. After flubbing a few expensive chances at recording a demo, the two come across Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a quiet, isolationist, anarchist metal artist in their town who agrees to help them produce a few tracks with them after being too afraid to say no. Having to bring her Nana along with her, the four of them become PBNJ (Patti, Basterd, Nana, Jheri) and record a record together. As the group tries to market their record, life comes at Patti hard and she must soon decide whether it is feasible to help support herself and her family while also pursuing her dream of rap fame.

“Patti Cake$” rests almost solely on the shoulders on Macdonald as Patricia. The Australian actress is a revelation in the lead role, exuding every bit of underdog spirit we’ve come to expect from films like this, but with a certain innocent sweetness that helps her character never become grating. One thing I really dug about “Patti Cake$” is that, however passionate Patricia is about her rap career, she puts her family first. Whether that mean working extra hours, taking care of her Nana when she needs to, or coddling her mom after some drunk antics, she keeps her obligations in order before ever arrogantly pretending like her art exempts her from such duties. That’s not to say that Patricia doesn’t make mistakes, but they’re all in earnest. Macdonald’s performance is incredibly energetic and almost scarily believable when you watch interviews with the bright-eyed, soft-spoken Australian actress behind the role. This is a girl who exudes everything about North Jersey suburban life and her ability to make Patricia’s passion for rap come across in her music is just as, if not more impressive.

Everett, an underrated actress, is also wonderfully heartbreaking as Barb. As a former artist who “almost” made it, there’s a sense of real trepidation and sadness in every aspect of her life. While there’s a real resentment to Patricia’s similar dream of making it into music, Barb never stops loving her daughter, as she knows her job as a mother is too important. That doesn’t stop her from acting immature and irresponsibly a lot of times, but Everett’s performance captures both sides to this enigmatic character really well, especially in the fact that I’ve met many Barb’s in my lifetime and really felt that sort of kindred, if incredibly sad spirit to her character.

Director Geremy Jasper not only wrote, produced and directed the film, Jasper also wrote the entirety of the original music for the film’s soundtrack, all of which are incredibly fun and catchy songs. Each song brings forth its own sense of character, but going back to the topic we discussed before about white rappers in the business, Jasper finds a sense of identity in not only Patricia’s whiteness, but also in Jheri’s Indian-ness in their music, rather than simply taking on the mannerisms of other, black rappers. There’s a sort of respect for rap in this film that Jasper doesn’t seek to tamper with, but the delicate way he handles it never once loses the spirit of the power and struggle that rap brings.

“Patti Cake$” is being compared to films like “8 Mile” and “Hustle & Flow,” to which I couldn’t disagree more. While “Patti Cake$” is indeed about an up-and-coming rapper and the struggles they face in doing so, “Patti Cake$” is way too self-aware to align itself with the super serious films mentioned before. This is a film with a funny bone about it, and one that knows exactly when to flex it and when to let the dramatic side come through. The balance between these two elements makes the power of “Patti Cake$” even more joyous, as we see every side to each character as they laugh and hurt at nearly every stage of the film.

“Patti Cake$” also does a wonderful job in creating and fleshing out really interesting and unique characters that are memorable from the first scene they appear in. This sense of identity in each of these characters helps “Patti Cake$” stand out when the story often goes in more predictable ways that you’ve come to expect from things like this. The music and characters all have a wonderfully unique twist to themselves, even if the narrative is a bit familiar.

“Patti Cake$” is an absolute delight of a film that, upon leaving the theater, I immediately added the entire soundtrack to my Spotify playlist to jam to in the car at all times. Thanks to wonderful performances from the whole cast, but especially from Macdonald and Everett, this isn’t your average rags-to-riches story in the slightest. The film doesn’t tie things up in a bow, nor does it sugarcoat things for the audience, but it does give us a rousing soundtrack with some incredibly unique and likable characters that makes “Patti Cake$” an absolute joy to watch. The story might go by the playbook of typical music films, but when everything else around it is so wonderfully unique and fun to watch, it’s something I’m willing to discount when the craft put into the small details are as joyously original as they are here.

4/5

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Directed by: Geremy Jasper
Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Sahr Ngaujah, McCaul Lombardi, Wass Stevens, Nick Sandow, Anthony Ramos, Ray Iannicelli, Daniel Stewart Sherman, with MC Lyte, and Cathy Moriarty.
Runtime: 108 minutes
Rating: R for language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use and a brief nude image.
Now playing exclusively at AMC Concord Mills and Regal Ballantyne Village.

Fox Searchlight Pictures presents, in association with RT Features, Stay Gold Features and Maiden Voyage Pictures, a Department of Motion Pictures production, “Patti Cake$”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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