Sometimes it is the most unassuming little films that completely take you by surprise, and whilst ‘Patti Cake$’ garnered some buzz from both Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals with nominations in some of the top categories, this is the sort of film that will fly under a lot of people’s radars which would be a great shame indeed.
You’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard of director Geremy Jasper before, as ‘Patti Cake$’ is in fact his first feature length directorial effort, having directed a handful of shorts and music videos previously. With a cast of relative unknowns as well (aside perhaps from Moriarty), this is the sort of independent film which will rely heavily on word of mouth to find its audience, and I really hope it does.
It’s a story seen before, and indeed obvious comparisons will be drawn with Eminem biopic ‘8 Mile’; but where that went for gritty realism, ‘Patti Cake$’ has a much sunnier disposition, whilst still dealing with some dramatic events and character struggles in a believable and authentic way. It helps that the characters are instantly likeable, and with the story told from the perspective of our gutsy heroine Patti (Danielle Macdonald), there is warmth, humour, and unexpected tenderness.
Whilst it doesn’t fully avoid the tropes of a “rags to riches” storyline, it does thankfully avoid making jokes at Patti’s expense, and the sensitive writing should be commended for never making her size the crutch for an unnecessary punchline. We spend near enough the entire run-time with this character, and relative newcomer Danielle Macdonald does a wonderful job of breathing life to this character. She is funny, believable, honest, and an easy character to spend extended periods of time with. There is a fire and a passion that erupts like a volcano whenever she raps, and it is a wonderful contrast to her softer side.
The soundtrack, as expected, is absolutely killer and a great listen in isolation of the film as well. Whilst the other characters are not as well developed as Patti is, her relationships with all the other characters are given their moment in turn; particularly her relationship with best friend Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay) is believable and genuine. Her tumultuous relationship with her mother Barb (Bridget Everett) has a very satisfying arc, and the sweet relationship she shares with her Grandmother (Moriarty) provides the emotional heart of the film. Whilst the romantic subplot felt a little shoehorned in, it ended up being surprisingly sweet and didn’t feel extraneous.
Really, the only thing I could’ve done without in this film was the subplot involving one of Patti’s rap idols, O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). There were a number of “fantasy” and dream sequences scattered throughout the movie, and whilst they made sense and provided some context around Patti’s aspirations for stardom, equally they were something that didn’t add a whole lot to the plot overall, and could’ve been cut to trim the runtime down to something much punchier.
On the whole though, ‘Patti Cake$’ is a delightful, uplifting comedy drama with a killer soundtrack and a great performance from an actress who will definitely be one to watch. Intimately and tenderly shot, this is a surprisingly accomplished film for a first time director, and is definitely one to seek out if you get the chance.
Sarah’s rating: 8 out of 10
Director: Geremy Jasper
Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty