Patti Cake$: thoughts and first impressions
image courtesy of rollingstone.com
Patti Cake$ (2017)
Dir. Geremy Jasper
Starring Danielle MacDonald, Bridget Everett, Cathy Moriarty, Mamoudou Athie, Siddarth Dhananjay
Patti Cake$ was a spur of the moment blind viewing for me. I saw posters on the tube station and heard about how the film’s got mad bars, and headed straight for RichMix. (£5 membership tickets, baby.)
Danielle MacDonald stars as the titular Patti Cake$ aka Killa P aka Patricia Dombrowski, a New Jersey bartender and waitress hoping to kickstart her rap career. Alongside her best friend Jheri (Siddarth Dhananjay), mysterious, self-identifying Antichrist Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), and her fiery grandmother, she embarks on a path to realise a dream. Patricia’s relationship with her alcoholic and former singer mother (Bridget Everett) and her grandmother’s (Cathy Moriarty) medical bills become focal points of conflict throughout the film, exploring Patricia’s drive to succeed battling her self esteem and external pressures. She also idolizes rapper OZ, akin to the Wizard of Oz. Pro Era’s Kirk Knight makes a cameo as a rival rapper.
What struck me about the film at first was how open it was to experimentation. Though I would describe the majority of its aesthetics to be American Honey meets 8Mile, there were plenty of sequences I didn’t expect. There were these dream sequences, Wicked green in hue, intense and glamorous that weaved in really well with Patricia’s everyday New Jersey life.
The film, if you look closer, has nuanced takes on feminism, class, and even race. Though it was only touched upon when our titular protagonist finally met her idol, I felt like the film lacked the moxy to tackle cultural appropriation despite having a lot more room to. However, I believe they did a good job in showing how music is universal, and that there is beauty in all struggles.
The backbone of the film was the relationship between Patti, her mother, and her grandmother. It’s rare that there are films exploring the complex relationships of women from different generations in the family.
Earlier I compared the aesthetic of the film to Andrea Arnold’s American Honey, there was something about using natural light and fully experiencing the raw honesty nestled into life’s simplest mundanities that makes stories like Patti Cake$ so appealing. There’s an illusion of authenticity and genuineness. I like the relationship between PBNJ, it’s one of the few dynamics throughout the whole film that was wholesome and not toxic.
Many have argued that the portrayal of women in this film, particularly of Patti and her mother are “unfeminist”, however I think it’s important to represent women from all walks of life, women who make real mistakes. I’m noticing more and more that in the past, female characters are put into situations wherein the outcomes are black or white; thus removing any opportunity for nuanced growth we’re able to see in male characters. Even male characters we don’t like.
Maybe it’s not that deep, and I’m grasping at straws. But after five minutes of leaving the film, I wondered how come we haven’t seen any stories like this with women of colour? Do white women always have to “pave the way” for us? Or are our stories simply deemed to “other” for mainstream media to consume? White women have the luxury of having their stories represent themselves as individuals, however women of colour still have that air of “otherness” to our stories as the rest of the market fear they cannot relate to our stories. Our stories are just like yours. They’re human. Seeing a woman of colour be at the forefront of her story as an individual instead of representing her entire ethnic group is seen as ‘revolutionary’, whilst in reality, we’ve just been doing what y’all have been doing. It’s just you’re the ones that have never seen it before.
While you may roll your eyes and begin a structured response, cishet white male reader, the reason you’re replying is to get your word in. Not to contribute to the discussion. I know people like you; listen with the intent to reply not to understand. It’s because you have no idea what it’s like to not see yourselves all the time. Hell, the very idea that one straight white male character might be replaced with someone queer or of colour or somewhere else in the gender spectrum makes y’all cry: ‘Help! We’re being erased!’
It’s the little things.
Here’s where I begin to take a step back. On the one hand, the film was beautifully executed, the performances were honest and raw, and there were several hard bars dropped that made be gasp a little.
However, as I mentioned earlier, the film didn’t really have the guts to tackle cultural appropriation despite having the space to. You can argue though that this isn’t what the film was about, and my “overly-sensitive feminist” ass is just reaching. Fair enough, but have you ever asked the question as to why Patti had to be a rapper? She’s clearly a talented lyricist, and a hard working individual, so why not make her a pop singer? Has that trope been overdone? (Yes.) Is it a refreshing change to watch what is essentially Jersey 8Mile with a female lead? Of course. But there’s so much attached to the conversation when we talk about white rappers. Patti obviously had enough to deal with being a woman trying to break into the music industry, but as a white woman? Have we finally found a platform wherein white women don’t succeed but do anyway?
There’s a part in the film where after Patti has worked so hard with the catering company, she has the opportunity to work for a private, high-profile client. She then puts together that the client she was hired to cater for was none other than her idol, rapper OZ. This started out really heartwarming for me, and took a turn I expected but didn’t really want to happen. I’m a sucker for happy endings. Patti realises who’s house she’s in, and is able to make the special drink requested by their host. She perfects the drink and hand delivers it to OZ, armed with her mixtape. After setting down the drink in front of her hero, she starts rapping as she’s about to leave. You get this feeling of elation that, this is it. This is her shot. Her dreams are about to become a reality. And then reality snatches the rug from under her feet, and she falls on her face. It was like watching your worst nightmare come to life. OZ begins by complimenting her rhymes, and then proceeds to tear her to shreds; calling her a culture vulture only hoping to cash in (which is usually the case with most white people in, well, any industry really.) He even goes as far to put his cigar out on her mixtape. Literal burn. Perhaps music trancends race nowadays, after all race is a social construct. However, we musn’t neglect the cultural implications of a genre of music that was clearly birthed out of the struggle of African-Americans. A lot of people are saying that “Hip-Hop is the new Rock and Roll.” Didn’t white people steal rock and roll, too?
As our hero walks away defeated and stripped of her job, she runs into more bad news. (SPOILER) her grandmother passes away. PBNJ have lost their core. This puts Patti on a downwards spiral, burning every other bridge she had worth anything in her life. This is real. It’s actually one of the most honest depictions of grief I’ve ever seen in a while. What was most startling to me is that at that point, I definitely saw myself in her. It was definitely reminiscent of any of my depressive episodes. That’s what it’s like. You want to make sure that you’re all alone, pushing everyone away, hoping maybe, just maybe, someone will stay.
Of course the film ends happy.
I can’t remember much about the sound design other than the score and the actual music.
Overall, it’s a feel-good journey of finding purpose and self-discovery, it’s a story about a place and a community I wasn’t familiar with which was refreshing; it’s sweet but I’m not sure if I’d ever watch it again.
Reflecting on writing this piece:
This was a bit rushed. I really needed to write something other than Uni work. I’ll be back, my head is in limbo.