It’s been a really strong few months for directorial debuts with the likes of Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River and Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country. There is also Geremy Jasper’s Patti Cake$ to throw into the mix – a boisterous, expressive tale of aspiration to escape the hand one is dealt. Patricia works nights in a boozy karaoke bar, under pressure from her mother to take any work she can to help fund her Grandmother’s increasing medical bills. A talented musician, Patricia is destined to follow in the depressing footsteps of her mother who now frequently haunts the karaoke stage, reliving her past brush with fame and success, which repeatedly results in nights spent vomiting in the bar’s toilet cubicle. Patricia’s talents as a lyricist and rapper is encouraged by her close friend Jheri, wannabe MC and pharmacy clerk. The duo escape through their music, a comfort and a source of confidence for the two misfits who are trapped in downtrodden New Jersey – a part of America we’re not so used to seeing onscreen. Their race, gender and aesthetic pits everything against the collaborators. Coming across another individual who also rejects his social and racial stereotypes, two become three. With all these varied creative elements in place it becomes apparent that escaping their claustrophobic neighbourhood could really be a possibility. Patti Cake$ is exciting cinema with some breakthrough performances that promise great things to come. Far from being a rags to riches story, Patti Cake$ has a lot more lurking below the surface than it initially appears to. As much about family, society and modern America as it is about music, Patti Cake$ is most importantly about the struggles and complexities that come with chasing your dreams when your place within society screams at you to give up.
Yes there is a more conventional story about triumphing in the face of prejudice here but what really captivated me was the film’s exploration of family, responsibility and the restraints our social backgrounds have upon us. Up against both a group of peers who isolate Patricia for her weight and gender and the constant battle to fund Nana’s ever declining health, Patricia faces conflict and obstacles at every turn. With a mother who discourages her creative ambitions and with little choice but to take on long hours of physical work for minimum pay, it takes Patricia’s personal drive and relentless spirit to keep her going. Danielle Macdonald packs a punch in the central role. She is charismatic, fierce and gives an intimate and daring performance. Patricia is unapologetic for her size, gender and class and this is all captured in a defiant turn from Macdonald. I was equally won over by Bridget Everett’s brazen, brash portrayal of the film’s most tragic character. Aged and wasted talent absolutely tortures Patricia’s mother and is evident within her resentment of Patricia’s ambitions, her heavy drinking and her evident devastation in having somehow ended up on the poverty line in Trump’s America. Although we root for Patricia’s success in the face of adversity, thankfully there are no unrealistic developments that detract from our investment. I only realised just how much I had enjoyed Patti Cake$ when it ended. I was on board from start to finish and left the screening with some of our protagonist’s unapologetic confidence having rubbed off on me, what more could you ask for?
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