Review: Patti Cake$
Director Geremy Jasper’s feature debut Patti Cake$ should be yet another by-the-numbers rise to fame film. It’s a story we’ve seen time and time again; a young artist doesn’t give up on her dreams, no matter how viciously the world puts her down. However, on the back of the cast’s pure charisma, virtuoso lighting and cinematography, and — perhaps most crucial for a film with this story — solid music, Patti Cake$, at times, soars. Patricia Dombrowski (a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. White Trish, a.k.a. Patti Cake$), an aspiring rapper, and her producer Hareesh — by day: local pharmacy drug clerk, by night: rap producer — gradually rise up the ranks of the New Jersey rap scene. As the two team up with recluse local musician “Basterd” and meet Patricia’s hero, native New Jerseyan rap mogul O-Z, Patricia comes to find her own voice and, through her conviction, convinces her family of her passion, too.
What elevates Jasper’s tale (which he wrote as well as directed) above so many other similar tales is his experience in music video filmmaking. Jasper finds a rhythm, even in the non-musical sections of the film, and keeps the heart of the film thumping, even when the beats aren’t. There isn’t necessarily a terrible deal of narrative escalation — Jasper keeps the film’s stakes reasonable; a choice that feels natural given the setting of the tale — but what the film lacks in traditional narrative intensity, it more than makes up for in propulsive, passionate energy. Visually, Patti Cake$ is an utter treat. The lush purple tones of magic hour often suffuse the screen and, at all times, cinematographer Federico Cesca’s framing fills the screen with the same bursting ambition that leaps out of Patricia’s chest. At points, Jasper lets Patricia slip into a neon green hypnotic fantasy, sequences that boast some of the film’s most psychedelic and enduring visuals. It may not necessarily be a new look, but it certainly is a gorgeous one.
The central performances are all rock solid. Danielle MacDonald turns out a sympathetic and unabashedly confident performance as the eponymous Patricia. Bridget Everett plays her bedraggled mother, dashing Patricia’s hopes for fear of the world doing worse. Mamoudou Athie plays the mysterious Basterd with monotone vacancy. But, it is Siddharth Dhananjay as the druggist/producer Hareesh who truly steals the show. His character is so close to being an annoying stereotyped sidekick, but Siddharth saves the character through raw magnetism. He’s hilarious and brilliantly talented; alternating his producing responsibilities with some surprisingly impressive vocal work.
Patti Cake$ might be a story you have seen before, but it’s one full of heart, hilarity, and solid hip-hop. What it lacks in narrative originality, the film more than makes up for in the unconventionality of its characters. And, the film is certainly worth a watch, even if only for the wonderfully lo-fi, '90s-esque album cover Pattie Cake$ plasters across the front of their first mixtape: it’s a sight to behold.