Patti Cake$ Review

By Rich Cline

 

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie this year. It’s an almost outrageously quirky comedy that shamelessly plays every crowd-pleasing card, but in ways we’ve never seen before. The offbeat characters are ridiculously loveable, the music infectious and the plot strong enough to have us on our feet cheering at the end.

Patti Cake$ Movie Still

In suburban New Jersey, Patti (Danielle MacDonald) is a chunky white girl who dreams of being a rapper like her idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). She lives with her larger-than-life mother Barb (Bridgett Everett) and her cranky wheelchair-bound Nana (Cathy Moriarty), both of whom had musical ambitions of their own. Against all odds, she forms an act with her best pal Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), and they’re understandably struggling to get noticed. Then she meets Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a death-metal anarchist who joins her, Jheri and Nana in perhaps the nuttiest band of all time, PBNJ. The surprise is that their demo tape is actually very good. The question is whether they can win an upcoming competition organised by O-Z himself.

Writer-director Geremy Jasper shoots the film like a documentary, staying close to the characters as the real world rumbles along obliviously in the background. This draws the audience in, making it very easy to identify with these talented, likeable people who produce exhilarating music. Australian newcomer Macdonald is simply amazing, a magnetic force to reckon with. She brings Patti’s yearning to life, as well as her snarky sense of humour, rapping skills and more than a little bitterness. She also has superb chemistry with all of her costars, each of whom develops a fully formed character who defies easy description. But then each person in this story deserves an entire film of his or her own.

It’s rare to find a movie that’s this confident about who its characters are, where they live and where they intend on going as soon as possible. Patti is certainly in a rush to escape. But then each person is a complex bundle of infuriating stubbornness and generosity of spirit. While the obstacles they face are genuinely daunting, the ways they choose to assault them are often hilarious. The musical sequences alone are worth the price of admission: expressive, original, fierce and very funny. At its core, this is a movie about the dawning relationships between a group of misfits who discover that together they have the power to achieve their dreams. Films don’t get much more inspirational than that.

Rich Cline