Sundance 2017 Review: Patti Cake$ Hits All the Right Beats.
Geremy Jasper‘s Patti Cake$ premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2017. The film follows Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$ (Danielle Macdonald), an inspiring rapper from North Jersey. We as an audience get an inside look at Patricia’s life and all the obstacles that stand in the way of becoming the next big rap superstar.
I walked into the World Premiere of Patti Cake$ not quite knowing what to expect. Based on the plot description on the Sundance website, I expected the film to be a comedy similar to Dope, but that wasn’t the case at all. While Patti Cake$ does have some humor in it, the majority of the film is a drama. I was surprised by how gritty the film got in certain spots, but I feel this works as it showcased just how crappy of an upbringing Patricia had.
Patti Cake$ opens with a visually stunning dream sequence that introduces the audience to Killa P aka Patti Cake$ as she raps alongside her idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). When Patricia wakes, we are immediately thrown into her reality. Patricia’s mother Barb (Bridget Everett) smokes cigarettes, argues with her, and ask her for money on a daily basis. It is revealed during one of their fight scenes that Barb was once an inspiring musician but never achieved that dream. Barb spends a good portion of the film reminding Patricia that her dreams of being a rapper aren’t realistic and that she should seek out other job opportunities that will pay the bills.
Everett’s performance is incredible as she isn’t afraid to embrace the role, giving a multi-faceted performance. Everett portrays Barb as a single mother whose dreams and aspirations have come and gone. We learn throughout the film that Barb is divorced and isn’t supportive of Patricia’s dreams because she is afraid that she is going to end up like her mother. Barb also has a bit of drinking problem and no idea what to do with her life. Everett captures all these elements of Barb’s personality with such raw honesty. Barb feels like a real person, therefore, creating a sense of authenticity to Patricia’s troubled upbringing.
Despite not seeing eye to eye with her mother, Patricia does have a good support system. Her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) is a local pharmacist with big dreams that he and Patricia are going places. Patricia’s Nana played by the unrecognizable Cathy Moriarty is incredibly supportive of her granddaughter’s dreams. Nana pushes Patricia to pursue her musical ambitions even when she is feeling discouraged. Nana becomes the inspiration for the song “PBNJ” which was stuck in my head for hours upon hours after leaving the theater.
Even though I am not a fan of rap music, there is no denying that the rhymes in this film are impressive. The “PBNJ” song is by far my favorite rap, and I loved the slow-motion music video that featured Nana. The scene where Patricia goes face to face with Danny in a rap battle was insane. Jasper shoots this rap battle like an underground music video with lots of close-up shots. By doing this, Jasper makes the audience feel as though they are there with Patricia and Danny on the street as they battle it out. There are several other rap moments as well, but I think the film’s most crowd-pleasing moment is the finale. I don’t want to spoil anything but the finale could even provoke some tears depending on the viewer.
Danielle Macdonald is electrifying. Macdonald makes it so easy for the audience to get behind and root for her. What makes Macdonald’s role so impressive is that she is Australian and not from New Jersey. I was stunned by how perfectly Macdonald was able to transition her voice to have a New Jersey accent. Seriously, it is astounding especially when you take into consideration that she had to rap using the accent as well. I have seen Macdonald is previous films, but this is a career-defining performance. Even if you can’t appreciate the other aspects of this film, I think it is almost impossible not be impressed with what Macdonald pulls off with this performance.
Director Geremy Jasper does an incredible job capturing the grittiness of North Jersey. As someone who was born and raised in the Garden state, I knew exactly where the film was shot. There are plenty of beautiful areas in North Jersey, but Jasper doesn’t focus on those locations. Instead, he takes aim at the more industrial and run-down areas of Northern Jersey which include Newark, Paterson, and Elizabeth. I enjoyed watching the film and being able to identify most of the shooting locations.
I also have to commend Jasper for some of the details that only Jersey Natives will pick up on. I loved the fact that several scenes took place in a diner because diners are always the go to spot when hanging out with friends.The scene where Barb says “All timers” instead of “Alzheimer’s” is hilarious because that is how both my mother and I refer to the disease. I appreciated all the little nods or inside jokes that only real New Jerseyans would catch.
Clocking in at 108 minutes, Patti Cake$ is a genuine crowd-pleaser that hits all the right beats. Patti Cake$ is a unique coming of age tale that isn’t afraid to be gritty and different. I applaud writer/director Geremy Jasper for not only portraying a strong female lead but one that isn’t a size two. The script even acknowledges Patricia’s weight as several people in the film nickname her ‘Dumbo.’ While there are some clichés here and there, I can forgive most of them due to the effort that everyone apparently put into the film. Patti Cake$ is destined to be a hit that will be admired by many generations to come.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s rating for Patti Cake$ is a 8 out of 10.