Saturday, November 11, 2017

Patti Cake$ - A Little Indie That Could

Meet Patti Cake$ aka Killa P but ultimately aka Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald). She's an unlikely rap star in the making, living her young life in a forlorn New Jersey town that if you want to stereotype seems to be the place where the bodies are buried. Patti is first introduced during an elaborate dream sequence where her rap idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah) is descending from the heavens to bestow his blessing on her. Reality interrupts and you see Patti's real life which ticks off some pretty bad boxes on the dismal life checklist - early morning collection calls, her mom in bed with the latest looser and finally a sick nana in the living room watching reality TV. How Patti reacts to this tells you a lot about what is to come - she looks at herself in the mirror and says "'re gorgeous, ya boss bitch".

There is an urge to compare this story to 8 Mile, Hustle & Flow or maybe even something like Billy Elliot (Not a stretch. Watch and then think about it) but I decided to see Patti Cake$ as a coming of age super-hero story. Patti may have a rough home life and spend a lot of her other time working in New Jersey's most depressing Kareoke bar but when Killa P comes out she is a transformed and her super power is a voice. A voice that when unleashed via rap empowers her to plow through obstacles whether it be the lame fat jokes hurled at her or the hardened but ultimately fragile machismo of "the boys" threatened by her presence in their world. Every hero needs a sidekick and Patti gets three. First is her best friend and fellow rapper Jheri (Siddhartha Dhananjay) aka the do-rag Da Vinci. He is delightful and charming to watch as a pharmacist by day and a lyrical lover of the ladies at night. Second Patti and Jheri meet Bastard (Mamoudou Athie) a death metal/rap combo musician who brings a energetic rock vibe to Patti's rhymes. Third even her nana gets involved to lend some fish out of water humor.

The hits that knock Patti down on her quest for recognition come hard and fast in the mid part of the movie. Some are shockingly real to the point of violence and other more psychological such as being labeled a white "culture vulture". Ultimately though Patti and her gang get a chance to prove themselves in a very public venue. Endings are difficult. Make them vague and people are unhappy, make them too neat and, guess what, people are unhappy. I think the ending here leans a bit too far toward the latter but it's a pardonable sin when everything else is done so well. Director Geremy Jasper, who I am unfamiliar with, has a lot of credits for music videos; so he does a great job making all the musical and fantasy sequences engaging and energetic. My highest praise for the acting goes to Macdonald and Dhananjay because they shine especially the scenes where they playfully bouncing their rhymes off each other. So give this indie a chance and you will find some laughter and joy.