Eye For Film >> Movies >> Patti Cake$ (2017) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
Films have had people dancing in the aisles during the credits at Sundance before – most notably after John Carney’s retro charmer Sing Street last year – but spontaneous applause during the movie is less common. Geremy Jasper’s debut Patti Cake$ achieved that feat on more than one occasion during its world premiere, quickly winning over the audience with its strong emotional undercurrent, high energy and catchy tunes from the off.
Barmaid Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) can spit rhymes in her sleep, in fact her imagination is the main stage for her raps, as she casts an acidic look at her life in urban backwater New Jersey – “I’m 23 and I ain’t done shit” she says in opening rap – where she lives with her drunken mum Barb (by name and nature) and ailing nan (Cathy Moriarty). Patricia (AKA Patti Cake$, AKA Killa P) has a big frame to match her big voice and, despite her quick take downs, a big heart. Her best mate Hareesh (AKA Jheri) (Siddharth Dhananjay) also dreams of switching his pharmacy work for hype man glory. Into the mix comes the near-silent Basterd, a musician (Mamoudou Athie), who has the beats to match the rhymes, but with their ugly duckling crew and Patti’s personal problems, do the newly formed PBNJ stand any chance of breaking into the big time?
There is, no doubt, the familiarity of these characters and a plotline which involves a hip-hop contest threaten to sound the cliché klaxon but the sheer raw energy of the acting and authentic scripting just about win out. Much has, deservedly, been made of Australian Danielle Macdonald’s performance as Patti. Jasper and cinematographer Federico Cesca bring us up close and personal with her from the first moments, allowing us to feel the sheer force of her personality come spitting fearlessly from the screen. The raps flow as though she was born to the beat, which is an achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact that Macdonald is Australian and learnt to rap only for this role.
Everett’s performance, as her washed-up singer mum, is just as surprising. A cabaret star who has carved out a name for herself in New York, the actress has the build that could see her relegated to ‘funny big best friend’ sidekicks – something she comes parlously close to in fellow Sundance film Fun Mom Dinner. Here Jasper’s screenplay gives her the opportunity to showcase not only comic timing and belting voice but also the seedier emotions of jealousy and bitterness towards a daughter who might just manage to make it where she didn’t. And, though the women definitely – and refreshingly – dominate the film, newcomer Dhananjay also marks himself out as a talent to watch. Discovered by Jasper through online parody raps, his song and comic timing are also impeccable.
Japser shows his debut hand in the overladen plot, particularly in Patti’s encounters with her emcee hero O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), which drains some of the film’s energy and feels more like an excuse to fit in another song – although it’s a good one – rather than further the story. One fewer twist would mean more time for character, not less interest. Jasper’s background in music videos also occasionally works against him as he throws in a flourish too many, and though his dialogue has authenticity, he falls back on tried and tested set-pieces towards the end. This film has plenty of hustle even though it sometimes lacks flow.Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2017