Aspiring rapper Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$ (Danielle Macdonald), is fighting an unlikely quest for glory in her downtrodden hometown in New Jersey.
Review by Louise Keller:
Act your race, is one of the most memorable lines in this pulsating, hard-hitting breakout debut film from Geremy Jasper that explores the tumultuous world of rap and of a misfit trapped in a world from which she is desperate to escape. The genre is as complex as its characters. Essentially, it is a gritty coming of age film with ugly duckling elements with a dash of romance and the backdrop is an undercurrent of family conflict. As the dramatic curve rises and falls, Jasper's skill is to create a tangible reality and sustain a suitable sense of discomfort throughout, delivering a film that is as raucous and fresh as its unlikely star.
In the spotlight is Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, whose frizzy haired, overweight aspiring hip-hop artist dreams the impossible dream. It is a dream in which she walks on air and expresses her inner most creative thoughts as she exhales her anger with her self-penned rap songs. The irony of her rap song, My life's f**ing awesome does not escape us; her reality is a tough world in which survival in every sense of the world threatens to drown ambition, morale and self-worth. In the Rebel Wilson physical mould, Macdonald is a knockout - vanity free and the epitome of the ugly duckling whose painful, gutsy struggle makes the journey worthwhile.
Jasper has amassed a fabulous cast that authentically populates the volatile world in which Patti Cake$ (or Dumbo or Killa P. as she is also called) inhabits. To her ailing grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) she is a superstar; to her alcoholic mother who can belt out a song (Bridget Everett, terrific) she is a failure. It is the relationship between mother and daughter that lies at the film's heart and the scene in which its emotional resolution is reached, is powerful, indeed. It is at that moment that the true vulnerability of the characters is confirmed.
The scenes with Patti's best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) in the chemist shop where he works are hilarious as they both role-play their hip-hop aspirations. The most interesting character is the mysterious Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), whose musical fingers find the magic beat. Basterd is a striking contradictory figure with dreadlocks, silver piercings and a funny eye; a self-acclaimed anarchist who calls himself the Antichrist. The relationships between all the characters are beautifully drawn.
The narrative explores Patti's trials and tribulations as she struggles against the odds, pushes doors for opportunities and finds the courage to make her own statement. Look out for the scene involving Patti's gold-toothed rap idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah) and a green absinthe cocktail. It's an ugly, chaotic world and Jasper manages the story strands like a rhythmic rap song, never losing sight of the trajectory between his grounded protagonist and her flighty aspirations.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
For all its offbeat characters, elements and cinematic jives, Patti Cake$ is still a star is born / against the odds story, very much in the tradition of the American hero's journey. Or heroine's... Patti (Danielle Macdonald), is in the mould of 'most unlikely to succeed', especially as a singer, even if her metier is rap music. Her biggest disadvantage is not her bulky frame - which has earned her the put-down nickname of Dumbo, thanks in part to her surname of Dombrowski - but her personal circumstances of dishevelled poverty and dysfunctional home life, without a father.
Talented filmmaker (and composer) Geremy Jasper piles on the street-smarts and the sense of chaos, edginess and uncertainty with glee ... and the use of over-stated hand held camera to introduce us to Patti's world.
The disjointedness of the hand held camera coupled with difficult to hear dialogue tends to distance us from the characters until well into the second half. But through it all, Macdonald brings us a fully realised anti-hero character whose dreams eventually do matter to us, and her tumble-down persona gives way to the self confident rapper she hopes to be.
There are some clunky moments in the story, such as the unexpected (and unlikely) appearance of Patti's wheelchair-bound Nana (Cathy Moriarty) at the bush shack where Patti and her rap partner Jheri (Siddarth Dhananjay) have teamed up with the mysterious musician Basterd (Mamoudou Athie). Basterd, billing himself as the 'anti-Christ' at a talent show earlier, where Patti first sees him, is an intriguing character, full of contradictions and mysteries. His physically fascinating presence is welcome for its variety value, but what with Nana and the resulting musical collaboration, it's a bit too bizarre for its own good.
Bridget Everett is terrific as Patti's mum Barb, a singer in her youth, whose claim to fame was an LP titled Barb Wire. Jasper's film is a complex version of a contemporary tale that could have ended on a dour note - but then he wouldn't have got it financed.
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PATTI CAKE$ (M)
CAST: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddarth Dhananjay, Cathy Moriarty, Mamoudou Athie, McCaul Lombardi, Patrick Brana
PRODUCER: Chris Columbus, Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey, Noah Stahl, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Rodrigo Teixeira
DIRECTOR: Geremy Jasper
SCRIPT: Geremy Jasper
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Federico Cesca
EDITOR: Brad Turner
MUSIC: Geremy Jasper, Jason Binnick
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Meredith Lippincott
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 14, 2017