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Review: Patti Cake$

8 Mile meets Hairspray in this unashamed ode to rap

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Geremy Jasper has directed, written, and composed this uplifting hit, telling the story of Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, a hopeful rapper waiting for her chance to make it big, played eloquently by Danielle Macdonald.

Patti rides around the town in her “Patti Mobile”, as advertised on her number plate, in a down-and-out area of New Jersey with her sidekick and quirky counter-part Jheri, played by Siddharth Dhananjay, searching, somewhat half-heartedly, for greener pastures. In one rap battle car park scene, Patti verbally slams those who regularly call her “Dumbo” and insult her weight. Her attempt to overcome all the odds is part of this story, but it is more so a film about personal uplift.

Patti’s fire, work ethic, and talent drives her and Jheri’s journey from the bottom to the top, conveyed with almost effortless skill by Macdonald. Patti is a lower class white rapper, like Eminem in 8 mile, and tells a similar story of the Hip-Hop underdog. That said, this empowering fairy-tale rings more like Tracey Turnblad’s story in Hairspray – Killa P’s larger-than-life talent is important and inspiring, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Set in “Dirty Jersey”, the mundane is brilliantly transformed into a neon wonderland; dingy bars illuminated in electric blue light and bold car headlights beaming in car parks, switch to in-your-face close-ups of Patti spitting bars. This film packs a punch. Stunning and unavoidable, Federico Cesca’s cinematography is wonderful and the soundtrack glorious and oh-so-catchy – you will leave the cinema with some witty feminist rhymes – and vibes – stuck in your head.

My worry before watching this film was that Patti’s size would not lend her effective credibility as an underdog – after all, look at Biggie Smalls; who says your size can hold you back in rap?  But this was also a story with femininity at its heart. Jasper delivered effectively on creating an empowering story of rags-to-riches which doesn’t take too seriously the connotations of privilege that go alongside being slightly larger and white.

I also feared that Patti Cake$ would not afford appropriate credit to the African-American contributors and pioneers of Hip Hop in the way 8 Mile, the semi-biographical story of Eminem, did so effectively in 2002.  But we are reminded throughout, albeit somewhat quietly, that Patti is “white girl” trying to make it in an African-American music style. Jasper gives what feels like a fitting nod to the important elements, including a short cameo from MC Lyte, one of the original black female rapper’s of the 80’s, who ends up being a vital piece of Patti’s puzzle: getting her crew “PBNJ” a play on the radio, so we know, in classic happy-ending style, that they’ve “made it”.

This was an entertaining and worthwhile piece of cinema, not sensationalized and certainly not to be taken too seriously. Patti Cake$ plays it’s context well for the type of film it unashamedly is, and with a stylish grace PC proves to be a musical joy, and certainly a triumph for director Geremy Jasper.