‘Bow down, the Queen is the building…’
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t actually going to write this review. Having written a fair few the past couple of weeks, I thought I’d just allow myself to enjoy Patti Cake$ for the watching as opposed to the writing. There’ve been a fair few cracking reviews of it (Caroline Preece’s for Den of Geek to name just one) but, after listening to the Box Office Top Ten being read out on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review – well I heard the call. Namely the fact that right now the chart is overstuffed with three star movies (which there is always a certain time and a place for…) that lack something that Patti Cake$ is stuffed with – heart. Writing this review won’t get Patti Cake$ into the top ten but if even just one more person considers seeing it after reading, well, that’s what it’s all about. Because it’s a film that doesn’t just need praise, it deserves it.
Patti Cake$ ticks off all many of my cinematic checklist – an indie movie, a central character given depth, a cracking ensemble cast, an excellent soundtrack, lots of laughs, some teary moments and a superb underdog story. Then there’s the fact it’s a story so lovingly and carefully told, it truly warrants a watch.
Bruce Springsteen sang it most infamously in Born To Run, “Baby this town rips the bones from your back / It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap / We gotta get out while we’re young /”. Patricia Dombrowski’s (a.k.a Kill.P, a.k.a Patti Cake$, aka actress Danielle Macdonald) view of their shared hometown of New Jersey isn’t too dissimilar, although Manhattan may just be on the other side of the Hudson River – it couldn’t be further from her reach. Her life in NJ is hugely mediocre, a dissatisfying routine of monotony all-too frequently interupted with bullying and hate from those around her. She and best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) decide to do all they can to achieve her dream of being a star rapper.
There’s obviously a lot more to it, and unsurprisingly it’s not an easy path Patti & Jheri choose to follow. There’s many obstacles in their way, old and new, and the impact broken dreams can have on giving us the confidence to push forward. But I’m not going to go into that much more as A) I’m hoping that will have intrigued you somewhat… and B) I wouldn’t want to spoil any of it for you! The other reason I leave it there is because I’ve already identified the reason the film is so warranting of merit and attention; and it may just be one of things that gets forgotten about it.
The friendship between Patti and Jheri is one of the most heart-felt and tenderly shown friendships I’ve seen in film for a while. They admire and adore each other, both equally and in equal measure, and most importantly, they’ve got each other’s backs. They show friendship as it should be, a life raft during the bad times and a cheerleader during the good. The fact one is female and one is male is totally irrelevant, as is the fact they are from different races – neither factor impacts on their friendship and neither factor is needlessly explored or discussed. As is in real life, these differences are there but that’s it, they’re just there. And what? Even more refreshingly (slight spoiler time) a romantic subplot doesn’t arise between the pair, there’s no romantic tension, no loving looks (beyond the platonic) or worries of unrequited love. They are friends and it’s a friendship that is as endearing and infectious as the film itself.
Macdonald’s performance also requires much plaudit as she makes Patti seem like a real person, someone who has been hurt time and time again but just keeps going. A person who has been forced to put up a prickly exterior for protection, who is tough through & through yet her armour can still be penetrated by some of the nastiness in the world around her. Her friendship with Jheri allows us to see this, as do her interactions with both her mother and grandmother. Although the nature of these respective relationships may differ greatly they are both equally important. Her grandmother may be the one supporting her but, due to her grandmother’s health conditions, is inadvertently the one keeping her there. Then there’s a mother, a character occasionally made almost-monstrous by her broken dreams. An-almost rockstar, Patti is her literal reminder of how her life could have been. Both relationships result in some truly powerful moments, some heart-breaking and some heart-warming.
So, to end, I return to my opening paragraph. Patti Cake$ is an independent film with a budget of $1 million* that has a superb story that is wonderfully told. In short – it more than deserves a watch.
Patti Cake$ opened in UK cinemas on September 1st 2017.
*To put this amount into perspective let’s return to this week’s top ten and look at some of the budgets. Hitman’s Bodyguard = $30 million. The Emoji Movie = $50 million. The Dark Tower = $88.6 millon. [Mic drop]