Film Review: PATTI CAKE$ (USA 2017) ****

PATTI CAKE$PATTI CAKE$ is centered on aspiring rapper Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, who is fighting an unlikely quest for glory in her downtrodden hometown in New Jersey.

Director: Geremy Jasper
Writer: Geremy Jasper
Stars: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay

Review by Gilbert Seah

PATTI CAKE$ is a story of a big white girl, Patricia “Dumbo” Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), from Bergen County, New Jersey who seeks fame and fortune as a rapper. She lives in a really untidy house with her mother (Bridget Everett) and looks after her bed-ridden Nana. The film introduces her as she wakes up in the morning. The camera shows her ‘fat’ side while she does her daily routine like brushing her teeth, while rapping. She swaggers down the street with the camera showing her floating up in the sky – a great start for the movie. Her talent is rapping and she with her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and new discovery (Mamoudou Athie) hope to make it in the rap scene. The film is their difficult success story.

The film has 3 big plusses and with these three plusses, one can hardly go wrong. The first is a killer rap soundtrack. Director Jasper shows the origins of a song, how the lyrics come about and how the melody is created. The finish product is a marvel. The second are the great performances from the entire cast and thirdly, the script though not flawless, is nevertheless quite good covering many current issues. It is expected that the film has a happy ending and the tacked on turn of events is a bit manipulative.

Australian actress Danielle Macdonald is a real find and should be heading for stardom. Bridget Everett is also winning as Barb, her mother while Cathy Moriaty as Nana is a scene stealer.

Besides rap dance, the film covers a lot of relevant issues though not all to great depth. But it helps keep the film interesting rather than just focused on one issue. Bullying and non-acceptance is the other main issue. Patricia is big and when she does the rap battle, her size comes into play. She is also bullied in the neighbourhood and called “Dumbo’ by almost everyone. The mother and daughter relationship is also covered with satisfactory detail. Her mother has no time for Patricia and has no idea that her daughter is into rap, though she is also a real talented singer. One issue just touched on is the health care. When Nana is taken to hospital with a stroke, Patricia and her mother has to come up with the money. Patricia works extra shifts in her part-time job while the mother juggles the credit cards to pay the hospital bills. The difficulty of getting recognized in the music industry is also eminent throughout the film as the rap group try all measures to get a break.

Besides crooning out the rude lyrics with the ‘f’ word in almost every phrase, the film also shows that in order to survive one has to work very hard and be disciplined. Patricia works long 8-hour shifts as a part-time bartender, forcing a smile on her face all the time, in order to help pay the family bills.
The film is quite a marvel from a first time director. It is my sure bet that this film will win the Toronto Film Critics Association Prize for first film feature. Though the film is a hard watch from start to finish, every minute is worth it.


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