*Drop the beat* Hi, how ya doing, Deezus here, pump the brakes, about to review a fresh film called Patti Cake$. Geremy Jasper makes his directorial debut, telling the tune of an up-and-coming rapper just trying to make it through. Patricia and her family struggle, so she works a lot of doubles, and does her rapping gig on the side just trying to hustle. The script is a little weak, the plot seems to be lacking. Patti Cake$ keeps you smiling cheek to cheek, because this cast definitely isn’t slacking. This film is for anybody who is chasing a dream, because it has some of the most heart of 2017.
As I attempted to do in that intro, Patti Cake$ manages to capture the essence of hip-hop and infuse it into the story. As we follow Killer P a.k.a Dumbo a.k.a Patti Cakes, this film uses hip-hop as it has always been used for: as an escape. Patricia Dombrowski, yearns to get out of her small county in New Jersey and become a famous rapper. She wants to help support her disheveled mother and disgruntled grandmother and make a better life for herself. We’ve heard this character set-up before, but Patti Cake$ benefits from a breakout performance by Danielle Macdonald, who brings charm and swagger every time she is on screen. Whether it was through Patricia’s best friendship with her musical partner, Jheri, or her estranged relationship with her mother, Macdonald elevates everyone around her while commanding the screen. The other breakout star of this film is director Geremy Jasper, who makes his directorial debut. Jasper also wrote all the original music, in addition to the screenplay. I’ll get to the story a little later, but the direction of the film is very solid, and its unique tone is set from the very opening scene. As someone who has grown up on hip-hop and is definitely a fan, I was quite impressed with the music. Killer P earns her name with some very slick bars and catchy tracks. Aside from the very last track, which was a little too on the nose, each song contributed character and positivity to the film.
Macdonald and Jasper weren’t the only standouts of their film. Patti Cake$ sports one of the strongest ensemble of the year. Siddharth Dhananjay gives an outstanding performance, supporting Macdonald’s lead perfectly. He was funny, providing much-needed levity, and was the primary source of brightness in the film. Jheri is the best friend everybody wants to hype them up. Mamoudou Athie was also superb as Basterd, Patricia’s gothic producer and love interest. His character reminded me of a musical Edward Scissorhands in both his demeanor and relationship with Patricia. I felt like they could have done even more with his character, but we’ll delve more into that later on. Bridget Everett and Cathy Moriary were both very good in their respective roles, even if their characters had the most predictable storylines of the project. Patti Cake$ has an interesting family dynamic that I wanted to be shown a bit less of, since the film could have used that time elsewhere. Instead of focusing on Barb and her failed past music career, the creative team could have developed the relationship between Basterd and Patricia more, for example. I would have also taken more of the Patricia’s idol OZ or Danny, who were both great foils to aspirations. Patti Cake$ boasts quite a few impressive performances, but the finished product could have done a better job spreading the wealth story-wise.
This brings me to the weakest part of the film, which would be the plot. I can’t say the script as a whole is weak because I loved a lot of the dialogue and character development, but the plot of this film lacks in a few departments. Patti Cake$ tries to do a little too much and never picks a direction to follow. The film doesn’t really have an end goal besides “get famous and get out of this town,” but PBNJ (a cheesy but great group name) didn’t have much of a plan in order to achieve this. Without having something to work towards, you don’t feel as inspired by this group or their journey. I’ve also mentioned predictability, which is more of a problem in the second half than the first. Patti Cake$ pulls from ever musical underdog story in the book, from being misunderstood due to looks to the mom who doesn’t get it even though she chased the same dreams once, too. I wouldn’t have had a problem if the film chose to explore either of these a bit more, in addition to the mom’s not-so-subtle racism which could have been an interesting plot point. In the end, it is not so much that the script is bad or weak, but more that it leans a bit too much on the safe side. My other problem with this film is the ending. Without going into spoilers, it focuses on a negative event during the climax which shifts the tone of a bit too much. Not only that, but this underdog story’s classic “triumphant moment” was a little underwhelming and then everything just quietly ends. The story planted seeds throughout, but never really followed up on any of them. This, unfortunately, resulted in me leaving with a sour taste in my mouth after an otherwise fantastic film.
Despite lacking in originality, Patti Cake$ still manages to be creative and distinct. Danielle Macdonald really brings the heat and a wide array of flavors to this familiar dish. While on food terms, this film would be the equivalent to Hot Wings with REALLY good sauce. You know what you’re going to get but are also highly satisfied. Geremy Jasper has a bright future, showing glimpses of a John Carney or Damien Chazelle with his love for music being on full display. Patti Cake$ is a film with a lot of heart, telling a story about embracing your identity. If you like the sound of 8 Mile meets Sing Street, this movie is right up your alley.
DeVaughn’s Score: 7.5/10