There is a quote in the poster above for this film that is spot on – “An Instant Classic”.
That observation goes straight to the heart of this raucous motion picture about a girl in New Jersey who wants to escape her drab existence and rhyme her way to the top of the Hip Hop heap .
If you love Hip-Hop and remember 8 Mile, then you are in for a treat as Patti Cake$ delivers a similar rags to riches tale, but this time with a white female rapper, and a lot more laughs.
Australian actress Danielle MacDonald plays Killer P, aka Patti Cake$, aka any number of monikers she cycles through to entertain herself and her mate Jheri who works at the local drugstore, and who also harbours dreams of becoming a rap superstar.
We meet Patti as she wakes up from an actual dream, where her visions are realised and she is rubbing shoulders with rap royalty O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). Her dream is broken by a phone call from a collections agency threatening legal action due to late payments for her grandmother’s medical treatment.
Patti breaks into rhyme as she starts her day, with the refrain “My life’s fuckin’ awesome”. We can clearly see it is anything but. As she approaches her mother’s bedroom to see about paying the bills, she realises her mum is bed with somebody and she heads to the kitchen to grab a pop-tart for breakfast.
Entertaining her grandma with a bawdy Limerick, Patti heads off to meet Jheri at his work.
When she appears, he gets on the store PA (via the telephone) to announce her arrival and they riff off one another as best mates do.
The film wonderfully illustrates the unique transportive and transformational power of music, through Patti’s journey, and also within several other character arcs, including that of her mum, an absolutely brilliant Bridget Everett as Barb, who may now be a lush at the local bar where Patti works (Lou’s Tavern – “Where good friends meet”), but once had a shot at the big time in her own musical incarnation.
MacDonald’s performance is as raw and brave as anything I’ve seen on screen in a long time, and going into the film not knowing a great deal about it aside from it being an “endearing surprise” at Sundance, I assumed this was a biographical tale, due to her seemingly natural ability on the mic.
Her performance speaks volumes about what can be achieved through hard work and practise.
The shots of the industrial landscape and general urban decay of the United States in a place like New Jersey heightens the stakes as it is evident not many people make it across the river to NYC ( in the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, to quote a couple of successful musical artists).
Opportunities are scarce and collateral is scarcer, so when Jheri coughs up some of his own hard-earned dough for Patti to attempt to record a demo in the basement of a pet store, (in a studio appropriately dubbed “Pet Soundz”), only to have Patti cough something up herself, you get a glimpse of how hard it really is to follow one’s dream when you might just get one shot at pulling it off. Espacially when you need to collaborate to make the most of your skill set.
Fortunately Patti encounters another struggling artist, the wonderfully named Basterd the Anti-Christ (Mamoudou Athie who plays Grandmaster Flash in The Get Down), who reluctantly agrees to join the hip hop group Patti has formed with Jheri.
If you dig rap music and hip hop history, then this is a marvellous modern cinderella story of “rags to bitches”, about friendship, family, overcoming adversity and following your dreams.
When Patti heads through the “Gates of Hell”, a stormwater tunnel underneath a railway line to pursue Basterd, I realised I hadn’t rooted for a character this hard since maybe Katniss Everdeen in the first Hunger Games in 2012.
This flick ain’t gonna be for everybody, but gee it is a phenomenal performance from MacDonald and it would be incredible if she got some recognition for her prowess in front of camera and on the mic.
The largely autobiographical script and canny direction from Geremy Jasper is extraordinary, and for more on how he realised his own dream of making this film, then you HAVE to read this article .
This drop of joy is one of those rare gems that has much to offer, and really deserves to be seen to be appreciated. I might have divulged at the start of my review that I am myself a huge fan of rhyme (a disciple of Dr Seuss with a cat in the hat tat in fact,) and the lyrical combinations of rap music have long fascinated me, delivering an extra layer of appreciation for this clever film with witty and real rhymes.
4 Stars – “Hip Hop Fairytale Turns Trash to Treasure”