Thursday, March 16, 2017

“Patti Cake$”– Movie Review



This week, I attended the opening night of The New Directors/New Films series by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum Of Modern Art, screening the drama, “Patti Cake$”, with Bridget Everett and Cathy Moriarty. 


When an unlikely young woman tries to break into the music business as a rapper, can she overcome overwhelming personal and professional obstacles to realize her dream?


At the age of 24, Patti Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) – AKA, Patti Cake$, AKA Killa P, AKA Dumbo – is desperately trying to claw her way out of her depressing New Jersey surroundings.  She has to single-handedly take care of her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) while her mother Barb (Bridget Everett) drinks away what little money her daughter makes as a bartender.  Although Patti yearns to increase her earnings because the family has fallen behind in its bills, the bar owner is unwilling to give her a raise and unable to give her an expanded work schedule. 

Despite all of this, Patti has her own dreams:  to perform her own poems as a rap singer.  In order to do this, however, she’s got quite a few sizable mountains to climb.  For one thing, she’s a woman.  Also, she’s white.  Due to her weight problem, the fact that she’s not traditionally physically attractive might hold her back as well.  Since this is her passion – and believes to be her destiny, since Barb had her own brief singing career – nothing will stop Patti.  Fortunately, she’s got a support system in her friend Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), who works at a local pharmacy by day but harbors similar fantasies of a rapping career by night. 

Attending an open-mic night at a neighborhood club, Hareesh and Patti are mesmerized by Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), one of the musicians who has something of a harsh performance art style to his game.  Eventually, they are able to convince him to join their new group, PBNJ, and they record a CD of original tunes.  After facing constant rejection when trying to get influential people to give their disc a listen, Patti becomes discouraged and puts her artistic aspirations aside.  But once she learns that PBNJ has been invited to perform in a talent competition, can she get the group back together again for one last shot at stardom?   


Clearly, the strongest parts of “Patti Cake$” are the performances by Bridget Everett taking on a more dramatic role, a virtually unrecognizable (except for the voice) Cathy Moriarty as the grandmother and especially its star Danielle Macdonald, who has been getting increasing notoriety as this movie wends its way through the festival circuit.  Where it loses some steam is in the story; while the idea is unique, its execution does not always follow suit and this results in some trite, predictable moments.  Again, since this is by a filmmaker who is relatively new to telling a story in a long form such as a feature film, one cannot consider writer/director Geremy Jasper to have refined his techniques. 

The character of Patti is one for whom an audience can easily empathize.  She has been beaten up badly by life, both at home and at work; nothing seems to be going right for her and instead of helping, people just pile on.  In many respects, she’s facing an uphill battle trying to carve out a niche for herself in a rather competitive business.  On the other hand, while viewers may be rooting for her, Patti’s pursuits beg certain questions, such as whether or not she’s even being realistic or if she even has the talent she thinks she does.  Ultimately, even if it may be something of a challenge to root for her professionally, there still remains plenty to get behind Patti when it comes to repairing what’s left of her family.

Regarding Geremy Jasper as a director, he does have a notable visual style in the sense that many of his shots tend to set a mood (Patti’s dream sequences in particular).  Jasper’s background includes having done music videos (after attempting a music career of his own), so that would certainly account for some of his more stylistic choices.  He probably could’ve used some help with the screenplay, either in the form of a collaborator or an additional draft.  It is a decent enough start for Jasper.  Whether or not this will be the springboard to a promising career, only time will tell.

Patti Cake$ (2017) on IMDb  

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