Movie review: Patti Cake$

(image via IMP Awards)

 

People, against all odds, are born dreamers.

There are a million reasons why they shouldn’t be, with life mounting plenty of compelling reasons why it’s a fools errand to think that anything but the beige-coloured, dead hand monotony of reality awaits anyone’s hopeful grip.

Yet despite everything, that brass ring beckons, and humanity lunges … every damn time.

It helps explains why films like Patti Cake$ keep being released, finding a ready audience of people who want to believe the fairy tales are true, that it’s not only possible to have a dream, but to make it happen.

Of course, the grim truth is, as in writer-director Geremy Kasper’s superlatively uplifting film, that the fulfillment of dreams comes often at great cost, caked with failure, banal practicalities and a loss of self-belief at critical junctures.

All that is present and accounted for in this story you’ve seen, at least on paper, a thousand times before.

A young woman, in this case Patricia aka Patti aka Killer P, is stuck in dead end bar job, weighed down by circumstances and familial responsibilities – one she resents, her mother Barb (Bridget Everett) saddled with broken dreams of her own; another she doesn’t, the care of her ballsy, raspy Nana (Cathy Moriarty) – her only hope is a career as one of the rappers of her generation.

In her New Jersey neighbourhood, just across the glittering lights of New York City (again, the familiar tropes are well in evidence), where dreams go home to die, her only encouragement comes from best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) who announces her, with showmanesque flair as she enters the pharmacy where he works, as a personality far larger than the persona her current place in life affords her, a woman who hasn’t just dreamed, she has achieved.

It’s all fantasy at that point, but the thing is, Patti, and Jheri to a lesser but still impressive extent, have real talent, the kind that’s solid enough and thrilling enough to make those dreams come true.

The only thing missing, as it always is in these instances, is the opportunity.

 

 

Though they hustle to make it happen, even staging their debut performance at a stripper club, they seem to fall at every hurdle, all that drive and desperation not sufficient to counter the ability of life to snatch away alluring possibility just when it seems aching close to being grasped.

Seen it all before right?

Well you have, and yet with Patti Cake$ you haven’t, thanks in no small part to a startlingly good, arresting performance from Australian Danielle Macdonald who brings the eponymous character to life with a raw vulnerability, desperate sadness and winning hopefulness that reels you in from pretty much the first shot.

So convincing is she that all her well-worn dreams and the impediments that constrain them such as disillusioned mother who never made her musical dreams come true, lost jobs and a distinct lack of the opportunity she needs so badly, don’t feel like cobweb-laden tropes at all.

In fact, enlivened by Macdonald’s richly-nuanced, fiercely real portrayal of a woman wanting to loose her feet of clay and fly – in one scene where she is walking to walk and listening, old school, to a rap CD in her Discman, she actually does levitate off the ground, at least in her imaginatively-fertile mind, until a car horn brings her crashing back down – this much-told story, still replete with hoary visual flourishes that still somehow work, comes vividly, heartwarmingly alive.

You will Patti, who isn’t content to thrown in the towel and just accept what life has thrown her – although in the inevitable life slaps back sequence, she comes perilously close to doing that, and to be fair, with good reason; the world is not being kind to her – to make it across the water, over all those obstacles, to stare life down and justify all the tenacity against the odds.

 

 

But this is no Hallmark movie, with no fairy godmothers waiting in the wings or narratively-convenient sugar daddies stepping in to give the fantastical flesh.

True, there is one DJ who takes Patti’s mix CD and makes something happen with it, culminating in a talent show, the kind that are rife in these films, that does and doesn’t go where you think it will – the actual inevitable moment of triumph is far more unexpected and intimate with only Patti, boyfriend Basterd the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie) and Jheri present for the big reveal – but it isn’t absolutely assured, there is no sense that this might happen, and with Patti’s own mum as a salutary life lesson, every chance that it won’t.

It’s this willingness to be brutally real in circumstance and contrast it with Patti’s largely tenacious belief in her dreams, egged on by Jheri, that gives Patti Cake$ a feeling of being crushingly real despite its been-there-done-that narrative trappings.

The winning ingredient in this luminously transcendant film is Patti who makes you believe in the impossible, even when she’s at her lowest, infusing the film with vivacious joy that stands in stark contrast to everything around it.

Patti Cake$ is a love letter to the dreamers, an exquisitely well-made, gorgeously uplifting film, complete with some catchy-as-hell powerfully melodic rap, that acknowledges how much can stand in the way of making those dreams come true but dares you to have a run at it anyway.

 

 

 

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