Review: Patti Cake$


Sonia Hadj Said

If there is anything that can make being an aspiring artist more difficult, that may be being an overweight, white aspiring rapper living in a rough neighbourhood in New Jersey along with your alcoholic and disillusioned mother, and a granny with health problems. Introducing to the stage: Patti Cake$.

Patricia Dombrowski is the bartender at a shady local bar, where amongst the old regulars is her own mother: a karaoke star who does nothing but prowl for men and bitterly reflects on her unsuccessful singing career. Patti’s grandmother seems to be the closest member of her family: she asks her grand-daughter to rap for her while unknowingly putting her in trouble over unpaid hospital bills. This is how Patti ends up doing extra shifts at a catering company. Here she stumbles upon her favourite DJ who gives her some uplifting hope, and O-Z, (aka her biggest icon and the star in her wanna-be-at world) who destroys her spirit as well as gets her fired.

 

Somehow, there is warmth and love squashed into this terrifyingly real drama

 

Still, with a perfect team made up of her endlessly positive best friend Jheru, quiet and sensitive “Basterd”, and Nanny, Patti isn’t backing out from the fight. And quite literally being punched on the forehead by her love interest during the battle seems nothing compared to minimum wage jobs, a possible lawsuit, a sick grandmother and the break-in form of a gig in a strip club.

Somehow, there is warmth and love squashed into this terrifyingly real drama. Danielle Macdonald seems to actually be Patti rather than just playing the part. She makes the character human through wonderful vocals that will appeal even to rap non-lovers. Bridget Everett is so genuine in her role of the unfulfilled mother that it is actually hard to completely hate her. One would have to come from such a place to know if things there were so tough, but really – do we need a film to be based on real events when we can get something that is too real already? A really good performance came from Mamoudou Athie, who plays Basterd. Out of place, but completely falling into the cast, his short, to-the-point sentences are like much needed poetry in this town and in Patti’s life.

The big finale won’t make you cringe, but might squeeze a tear or two out of you. Don’t worry, this is not a “white” Precious. It’s not a “female” 8 Mile. It’s not a “rough” La La Land. It’s just yet another story about a struggling artist. And we could use many more.

 

Banner image: JEONG PARK/FOX SEARCHLIGHT

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