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We all like to fancy ourselves as the underdog in our own stories. Everyone - even the most fortunate among us has had to deal with some sort of hardship or struggle. It's a constant of life, that we can both use and learn from, or we can let our adversities overwhelm and define who we are. No amount of collective learning can truly prepare us for how cold and punishing the world can truly be. Yet, if you'll permit the cliché, calm seas never made a skilled sailor. The best we can often do when we're at our lowest, is to muscle up some courage and inspiration, lick your wounds and try again. Sometimes that's enough.
Patricia Dombrowski (Macdonald) knows this general feeling world-weariness quite well. She's an aspiring rap artist and thusly faces all the hardships that come with trying to make it big in a crusty New Jersey city where everyone is already aspiring for the same. Additionally she's impoverished, juggles multiple jobs and deals with her fair share of false starts. Her only advantage is her youth, which given the fact that she's morbidly obese may not be enough to curry her favor. Despite this she, along with her rag-tag group of friends give their all to seek fame, fortune and true artistic expression in a world that expects nothing from them.
I will readily admit that I am a sucker for these kinds of movies, and as far as this movie goes, Patti Cake$ is quite the charmer. Much of this is reliant on Danielle Macdonald's sympathetic performance as the talented but gun-shy Patti aka Killer P., whose flows vacillate between lyrically catchy to downright Shakespearian. The entire story is told from her perspective which often melds into a bold magical realism whereby she's spitting her words to the approval of O-Z (Mgaujah) her musical hero. These segments of the story are often coated in stormy skies and green tint; the color of money.
Patti's transition from a "culture vulture" to a bonafide lyrical phemon doesn't come without a pessimistic bite. The insurmountable and grave struggles that Patti faces may not have the same incredulity as that of 8 Mile (2002) or Hustle & Flow (2005) but they do carry with them a level of incredible honesty. These are the struggles of someone who is serially undervalued but who nevertheless doesn't let the melodrama of her life define her. Moreover she includes fellow misfits (Dhananjay and Athie) in her odyssey not for the sake of furthering a nothing career but to be a conduit for artistic expression.
Those who dispute Patti Cake$ is nothing more than a cliché-riddled Sundance célèbre aren't exactly wrong about this. One can certainly draw a thematic line between this and other feel-good tales like Sing Street (2016), Billy Elliot (2000) and Akeelah and the Bee (2006). Yet Patti Cake$ brings a grizzled authenticity to the well-worn formulas of underdog stories, and does so while showcasing some truly fun tunes co-written by director Geremy Jasper and Jason Binnick. I say If the purpose of cinema is to belay poetic justice in 120-minutes or less then Patti Cake$ should be considered rousing success.
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