There’s a moment in the Rap coming of age tale Patti Cake$, the debut film from Writer/Director Geremy Jasper, where everything hits its groove. Where the movie finds its voice and that the story of the young white woman Patti (Australian Danielle Macdonald) starts to win you over. It’s important to note that that point comes, because for the first 20 minutes you may be lost as to what film Patti Cake$ is meant to be, it feels like 8 Mile, it has laughs like similar lower class musical Sing Street, and intense family relationships like that in Precious. So it takes time to realise that like the very Rap music it creates, it takes from everything, remixes it and creates its own sound. However that sound, while enjoyable, doesn’t feel too original, and therein lies Patti Cake$ biggest problem. The viewer is always one step ahead of the story.
Patricia Dombrowski aka Patti Cake$ is a young mid 20’s rapper, ready to make it or break it in the rap scene. However the difficulties of cracking through the scene, ever increasing family drama at home and feelings for a young guy who is misunderstood, hold her back. What is she willing to sacrifice to achieve her dreams, can she prove that you can really have it all? This question drives the film, but what exactly is ‘all’, and can we can find solace in what we have is what stays with Patti by the end of the film.
From the opening sequence that threw off the audience at the screening I attended, Patti Cake$ wants to defy expectations. She isn’t your typical rapper, and if Slim Shady had problems breaking out, Patti has no chance. With her right hand man Jheri (Siddarth Dhanahay) they start to recruit members for a homegrown rap outfit. After discovering Basterd (a mostly silent and restraint performance by Mamaoudou Athie) and accidentally taking Nana (a show stopping Cathy Moriarty) to a recording session, PB&J is born. Music in these types of films can make or break the experience, and thankfully this film nails that aspect. PB&J has been in my head ever since I saw the film.
Danielle Macdonald delivers a star making turn as Patti, she holds every frame with commitment and dedication. Her rapping segments at first can appear cringe-worthy but as the film progresses and her voice gets more confident, she shows incredible skill. Her character goes through extreme highs and lows over the course of the film, and yet she anchors it in complete believability. I ended up feeling the highs she feels all the way through the film.
As great as Danielle is, the film is almost stolen by her two co-stars Bridget Everett (Barb) and Cathy Moriarty (Nana) who take the parts of the serious family drama and comedic relief respectively. The film bounces around Danielle’s interactions with these two characters to keep the story moving without feeling like it’s stuck in one gear. This led to the overall tone of the film feeling a little off. I would be laughing at Nana as if it’s the newest Paul Feig comedy, and then saddened moments later with Barb as if I saw an Oscar worthy movie. Danielle tries her best to keep both living in the same space, but director Jasper doesn’t quite nail it during the film’s overlong second act.
Tonal issues aside, Patti Cake$ is another great addition to the series of Musical coming of age stories. While nothing feels original, it all feels lived in and believable, leading to a brilliantly orchestrated finale that just manages to get over the line. It may be obvious, and you know what you are getting, but it’s rarely this raw and entertaining in equal measure.
Score – 65%