independent

Sunday 22 October 2017

Stellar lead Macdonald the highlight of underdog tale with roughly hewn charm

Film Review: Patti Cake$ (15), 7.5/10

Danielle Macdonald as Patricia Dombrowski in Patti Cake$
Danielle Macdonald as Patricia Dombrowski in Patti Cake$

Inspired by writer-director Geremy Jasper's efforts to break into the New York music scene, Patti Cake$ is a crowd-pleasing underdog story, which wears its heart on its sleeve.

This modern-day fable about shooting for the moon, when everyone is telling you to dream smaller, earned standing ovations when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of the year.

The film's unlikely heroine - an overweight New Jersey 20-something with a talent for immortalising her day-to-day existence in snappy verse - is a diamond in the rough, who just needs that one slice of luck to realise her potential.

Every time life beats her down (and in one scene, headbutts her and draws blood), she gets back to her feet and retaliates with a spontaneously crafted barrage of weaponised wordplay.

Jasper penned the songs and he gifts melodic dialogue to a small yet perfectly aligned cast.

'I'm an anarchist,' proclaims one death metal noisemaker to explain his disturbing Marilyn Manson-esque appearance.

'I think I'm Episcopalian,' tenderly replies the unshockable heroine.

This star in the making is Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), who fantasises about public adoration under her rapper moniker Killa-P to rival her gold-toothed hip hop idol, O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah).

Alas, Patricia is stuck in a dead-end job tending the bar where her booze-soaked mother Barb (Bridget Everett) belts out 1980s anthems on the karaoke machine, and locals cruelly taunt her plus-size fabulousness by calling her Dumbo.

Music is Patricia's escape from crushing reality and she composes tight rhymes with her best friend, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay).

Barb's musical ambitions as lead singer of a glam metal band crumbled to dust many years ago.

When she learns that Patricia intends to follow a similar path to stardom, the mother pours scorn on her daughter's intentions.

'You don't have a musical bone in your body and you sure as hell can't sing,' sneers Barb.

Undaunted, Patricia forges a creative union with a self-anointed Antichrist called Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) in the hope of finding the perfect beat for her confessional lyrics.

Fragile dreams shatter and Patricia turns to her emotional rock, Nana (Cathy Moriarty).

'I thought I could be someone,' whimpers the rapper.

'You already are,' smiles Nana. 'You're my superstar.'

Patti Cake$ exudes a roughly hewn charm that extends to the stellar lead performance from up-and-coming Australian actress Macdonald.

She is irresistible in the lead role. Every time Patricia doubts her talents, Dhananjay's sidekick is on hand to shake her out of the fug.

'Enough of the pity party,' he sighs after one self-doubting diatribe.

Relationships between Patricia and the older women are sensitively sketched.

Hopefulness bumps and grinds with emotional hard knocks, reminding us that darkness courses beneath the surface of the best fairy-tales.

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