By Jack Dignan
Following your dreams can be hard. You set your mind on something, do whatever you can to achieve it, and life throws a never-ending series of challengers right into your face. It hurts. Your long sought after dreams are often crushed. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, through perseverance and overcoming impossible odds, your dreams become reality. No matter how many times the story is told, and it's told an awful lot, it hits me hard. Patti Cake$ doesn't have much to add to the table, but it fits within the dream chasing sub-genre and I dug it.
We follow the story of an aspiring rapper named, unsurprisingly, Patti (Australian actress Danielle Macdonald). She's a bartender, living in a small, crowded home with her mother Barb (Bridget Everett), a failed singer who spends her nights drunk at Patti's bar, and Barb's mum Nana (Cathy Moriarty), who's confined to a wheelchair and bored out of her mind. Life doesn't seem to be taking Patti anywhere. She listens to music, goes to work, faces fat shaming and bullying from her neighbours and comes home to a mother that doesn't care. Patti needs to do something. Fast. And that's when her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananhay) comes into play.
Jheri and Patti both want to rap, but their many attempts at breaking into the industry have fallen short. While out at a local rave one night the two of them discover Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a heavy metal enthusiast with a nihilistic view on life. His music, to put it kindly, isn't sitting well with general audiences, but Patti has a plan. She teams up Jheri and Basterd, along with Nana, to form a rap band known as PBNJ. Together, their styles collide for a perfectly orchestrated and completely original rap fiesta, and it's up to them to make their own way in the world. Patti Cake$ is a wild, neon-filled musical adventure that's definitely worth checking out.
Nothing about Patti Cake$ is awfully original. Of its many subplots, they all come together quite nicely, but each of them feels familiar. You have a mother trying to destroy her child's dreams, a celebrity icon that may not be as kind as they seem, a musician struggling to overcome diversity and a home life that requires our protagonist to balance multiple jobs. Everything is familiar. And yet, they all fit together perfectly. They're matches made in heaven, culminating for an uplifting personal journey that's a little rocky, but ultimately worthwhile. It's a story with a predictable outcome, one that you could guess based purely on my synopsis, but that doesn't make it any less satisfying to watch unfold.
It's a head-banging step into the world of rap music, accessible for those like myself who aren't big on the genre. My friend described it as being akin to Eminem's Eight Mile. I'd agree... if I had seen the film. *gasp* I know, I know. I need to work on that. I'll get there, I promise. But if it is truly in similar vein to Patti Cake$, or perhaps even better, then I'm definitely looking forward to it. As for this, the real reason it works is thanks to the characters. They each bring unique voices to this story, allowing for a multitude of perspectives and creative voices through unique, loveable characters and catchy original songs. The song PBNJ was stuck in my head for hours after the credits rolled.
The whole thing is brilliantly crafted and well written. First time writer-director Geremy Jasper does have a few pacing issues, and there's a deliberate use of repetition throughout the plot that feels annoyingly... uh.... repetitive, but for a debut, certain aspects can be forgiven. Especially when it leads to a show stopping, heart racing and (happy) tear jerking finale. He brings charm and grace to the big screen, and allows Danielle Macdonald to shine in her breakout role. This is her film through and through. She's got the skills, the rhythm, the likability and the Australian-ness, which gives her a bonus ten points. Go Danielle!
This entire film rests upon her shoulders, and she carries it to victory. Patti Cake$ doesn't do everything right, most notably through its formulaic approach, but it takes what it has, hones up the style and dials the entertainment levels up to eleven. Your new favourite rap album is here. Isn't it time you went and checked it out?
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