That’s a rap!
For a comedy drama about an aspiring rap singer from New
Jersey, the critically acclaimed Patti Cake$ feels oddly British in its indie
film aesthetic. Sitting somewhere between Edgar Wright’s smart domestic observations
and Shane Meadows’ sharp social commentary, it looks and feels like something
Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner would produce.
That said, it tackles some very American, and very current,
themes, from the burden of healthcare costs for those in low paid jobs, to the endless
rows about cultural appropriation in music that have been around since Elvis.
I’m sure many people will be put off by the ‘rap’ theme of
the movie, but they shouldn’t be. This is not a film about rap; it’s a film
about people, about friends and about family. The rap storyline is just a
vehicle for some great performances and some smart dialogue, and you don’t even
have to like the musical style to appreciate the struggles and successes of
Danielle MacDonald’s titular heroine.
There is something very un-Hollywood about this film, which
might explain why it was such a hit on the festival circuit, with nominations
at both Cannes and Sundance. There is no fairytale journey here, no improbable
success story, just a gritty slog that three friends, and rather delightfully
Patti’s wheelchair-bound Nana, manage to negotiate each day with a smile.
Patti Cake$ takes a little while to get you on-side, and MacDonald’s
character is strangely hard to like at first, but stick with it. You will grow
to respect and root for her, not because the script or the score tells you to,
but because she earns that respect through her sheer tenacity and self-belief.
Patti Cake$ is ultimately an uplifting story, not because of
the success, or otherwise, of the amateur hip hop group (no spoilers here!),
but because of the warmth of the relationships between the complex central
characters. What Patti learns about family, friendship and forgiveness is worth
far more than any big money record deal.
So don’t let the ‘rap movie’ label put you off. If you’re
looking for something different from the bland blockbusters we’ve seen so far
this summer, Patti Cake$ is a worthwhile wander off the beaten track.