Jacob Richardson | 12/09/2017
An utter live wire of a film, Patti Cake$ is a wonderfully creative, original piece that will have you tapping along to it’s gloriously subversive beat.
Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, a.k.a. Killa P. (Danielle Macdonald), is a young woman living in New Jersey. Together with her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), her grandmother Nana (Cathy Moriarty) and a devil-worshipping metal musician called Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), she launches her rap career with the release of her debut album under the name PBNJ. While her alcoholic, neglectful mother Barb (Bridget Everett) and her hero O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah) might disagree with her pursuit of the genre, Killa P refuses to stop laying down her beats.
Director Geremy Jasper makes the transition from music videos and commercials to the big screen with this original story, and it is incredibly effusive. Every scene feels alive; every shot electric. It’s beautifully shot, with a raw quality that belies its small budget but at the same time is a perfect tonal fit for the locale. Jasper keeps the film pacing through ups and downs. It never gets too dark that it slips into pessimism or darkness, but it also never gets too upbeat, driving it into a farce of itself. It feels real; an up-from-nothing coming of age story anchored in humor but also immensely relatable.
The best thing about the film is without a doubt the incredibly convincing performance from Danielle Macdonald. She gives it absolutely everything. Through her, Patti is a thoughtful, relatable character that is impossible not to root for. She’s backed up by a supporting cast of great performers, with Dhananjay in particular delivering a hilarious performance.
That’s not to say the film is without flaws. Narratively, it’s a structure we have seen regularly before in these underdog rising to the top of the world stories. Jasper does attempt to subvert some of our expectations, in particular with the final rap battle, but it still feels like a familiar story. There are also moments of emotional trickery that don’t pack the punch that they should; likely because they aren’t given enough time to develop. Nevertheless, it still feels like a fresh take on the material, and Jasper delivers entrancing imagery, particularly with the montage of the band putting together their first hit.
Patti Cake$ is a scream of originality into the void of creative despotism, and for the most part one that is incredibly rewarding viewing. You’ll be left excited about the potential of all involved, and singing the absolute banger PBNJ on the way home.