The Sundance Film Festival has been a beacon of light for many independent filmmakers over the last couple of decades and seen some amazing films get made that otherwise might not have. Distribution birthplace for such films as Juno,
This year was no different: A Ghost Story, for example, has performed great guns; and Call Me By Your Name is set for an Autumn release thanks to stellar reviews and Oscar hopes. But one of the films everyone was talking about was Patti Cakes (or Patti Cake$ as it’s known on the posters), a true underdog story about a young woman, Patricia (Danielle McDonald) who has aspirations of making it big in the music world but rather than following her mother (Bridget Everett) into the realms of power ballads and rock songs, Patti wants to be a rapper. Egged on by her best friend (Siddharth ….) and her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty), they soon happen upon “Basterd” (Athie), a fellow musician with a knack for making music. Together, they become PBNJ and plan to conquer the globe but with mounting debts issues at home and her mother’s own dreams fading, Patti has her work cut out for her.
It’s strange hearing from writer/director Geremy Jasper that his intention wasn’t to make an underdog story in the mold of Rocky or Dodgeball (or, indeed, 8 Mile) but despite that, it’s exactly what he has produced – and it’s a bloody good one. In his debut, Jasper combines two shooting styles: on the streets of New Jersey and around its various locations, it’s totally docu-style – monochrome and hand-held putting you right into the trenches with Patti and gang, it showcases her struggles but also the strange beauty of her surroundings that provide her mountains of material. Then there are the polished, colourful and sharp images of a music video as Patti dreams of her moments in the spotlight – apart they are powerful enough but together the balance is perfect. The humour, too, is brilliantly measured throughout and while some don’t land as much as others, there’s plenty to keep the funny bone happy, not least from Moriarty.
His ace (or aces) in the hole is his cast, led by a powerful and potent star-making turn from MacDonald – originally skeptical she was right for the role (she’s Australian and couldn’t rap) it turns out to be a blessing as she embodies the role beautifully and balances the naivety and strength of Patti to a tee. Everett, too, is superb as her mother who’s vocal pipes alone would be enough to rave about her but the chemistry between the two is pitch-perfect as mother and daughter. Keep the eyes peeled from Athie and Dhananjay, too, after this one as both turn in exemplary performances.
While this may not be everyone’s cup of tea and could be filed under ‘typical Sundance fare’, Patti Cakes is so much more: a tender and thoughtful comedy that proves that showcases the ones who dream and the huge determination of the human spirit.
Patti Cakes is released on September 1st.