This oddball, feel-good feature unrolls like an 8mm Precious with Australian actor Danielle Macdonald as its shining heart.
White, frizzy haired and overweight, Patricia, a.k.a. Killer P, a.k.a. Patty Cake, works nights in a bar to pay her grandmother’s medical bills and dreams of being a rap star. Her pharmacy worker friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) is the only one who believes in her talent. For everyone else, her race, her gender and her weight make her a laughing stock. Even her mother Barb (Bridget Everett), a.k.a Barb Wire, who long ago gave up her own dreams of being a rock star, tries to burst her bubble. Then along comes a uncommunicative, dreadlocked anarchist who calls himself the antichrist (Mamoudou Athie) and the trio, with some help from Nana (Cathy Moriarty), form band PBNJ.
What I like about Patti Cake$ is that I didn’t really know where it was going. It has a bit of grit and the uncertainty of living close to the poverty line in the US is never far from its more light-hearted moments. The rap music is pretty great to this untrained ear, particularly the feminist lyrics in a sea of misogyny. Danielle Macdonald is a star, the perfect foil for Jheri’s goofy optimism and the antichrist’s subversive introversion.
The reality of racial inequity, so integral to the development and appropriation of rap, is not explored, other than occasionally highlighting how out of place Killer P is in the rap world. The discrimination against her, although mild, seems unfair and based as much on her gender as her skin colour. Her options – her ability to get work when she needs it, to receive only a reprimand when stopped by the police – would not be the same if she wasn’t white and I couldn’t help feeling a little let down that this privilege was not recognised.
I didn’t learn much but I left feeling buoyed by this perennial story of an ordinary person’s ability to transcend their personal limitations (and with “P…B…N…J, P…B…N…J” stuck in my head).
Have you seen this film? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below.