Movie reviews: 'Patti Cake$' charms as story about hip-hop underdog
Published Friday, August 25, 2017 5:48AM EDT
PATTI CAKE$: 4 STARS
“Patti Cake$,” a story of big dreams and hip-hop glory, introduces two major new talents to the world, writer, director (and former front man for indie rock band The Fever) Geremy Jasper and star Danielle Macdonald. Together they present a movie that is gritty, sweet and quite unforgettable.
Macdonald is Patricia Dombroski, a New Jersey wannabe rapper who, depending on her mood, goes by Patti Cake$ or Killer P. She’s a walking, talking attitude in plus-size clothes, a woman who has a way with words and a dream of bettering her circumstances through hip hop. “Just to make myself clear, get me the BLEEP outta here,” she raps.
Her mother Barb (Bridget Everett), once an up-and-coming singer, is now a drunk who spends her days caring for the wheelchair-bound Nana (Cathy Moriarty) in their ramshackle house.
With musical partner Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay) and an off-the-grid punk rocker that goes by Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie), Patti performs as PBNJ, a band with a demo but no street cred or prospects. When a “showcase” at a strip club goes sideways, Patti leaves the group, trading hopes of MTV stardom for a catering job. Music is never far away, however, and still might be the remedy for Killer P’s heartache and crushed dreams.
It’s hard to classify “Patti Cake$” as a feel-good movie but underneath the story’s grit and grime is an aspirational tale that won’t leave the taste of saccharine in your mouth. It’s a raw, emotional coming-of-age story of the type we’ve seen before, with styles we’ve seen before— fantasy cutaways and impossibly grim circumstances to overcome—but director Jasper and Australian born star Macdonald keep it compelling.
Perhaps it’s because “Patti Cake$” is, in part, based on the director’s life that Patti’s attempts to claw herself out of her Dickensian existence feel so authentic. Patti is a resilient underdog, a sympathetic lead brought to vivid and appealing life by Macdonald. What begins as one rapper’s run-of-the-mill journey to get out from under the weight of her dreams snakes around to become a high-energy, fist-pumping story of overcoming odds with dignity and on your own terms.
THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK: 2 STARS
Almost fifty years ago, Simon & Garfunkel provided the memorable soundtrack to the equally memorable movie “The Graduate.” This year, a wistful S&G song, “The Only Living Boy in New York,” inspired a wry movie of the same name by director Marc Webb.
Set in New York City, the movie centers around Thomas Webb (Callum Turner), a recent college grad in love with his best friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons). When she rejects his romantic entreaties, he’s crushed. Back at home in his parents, Ethan and Judith’s (Pierce Brosnan and Cynthia Nixon), swanky Upper West Side apartment building he meets the boozy new neighbour, W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges), an author and sage who offers life advice.
When Thomas learns about Ethan’s affair with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale), he first becomes obsessed with learning more about her and then, perhaps to make Mimi jealous and possibly in an ode to “The Graduate,” begins a romantic affair with the older woman. Navigating his complicated personal life brings his combative relationship with the grizzled Ethan—who once told his son, a wannabe writer, that his work was only “serviceable”—in focus while opening his eyes to the world around him.
“The Only Living Boy in New York” doesn’t have the buoyancy of “500 Days of Summer,” Webb’s other study of the way relationships work, and, sometimes, how they don’t work. It’s more quasi-Phillip Roth than RomCom but it is propped up with some terrific performances.
English born actor Callum is cut from the Benjamin Braddock school of the lovesick, confused young man, but it’s the seasoned pros who are worth the price of admission. Nixon is brittle yet steely as a long time New Yorker who was friends with Andy Warhol and mourns the loss of Greenwich Village’s famed Bottom Line club. Beckinsale is more than a plot device, bringing real humanity to a woman caught between the two men.
Bridges, now firmly entrenched in the old coot phase of his career, brings craggy charm to the role of mentor but it is Brosnan who shines. He’s at his best as a man who is simultaneously a father and romantic rival to his son.
“The Only Living Boy in New York” frequently feels like it is about to spin off its axis but Webb fights past the clunky dialogue and overly-complicated story to present an engaging coming-of-age story.
BUSHWICK: 2 ½ STARS
“Bushwick” is a down ‘n’ dirty Dave Bautista b-movie that may feel ripped from the headlines given the news from Charlotte et al.
Apparently inspired by reports of former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s much hyped (but factually incorrect) musings on his state’s secession following the election of President Barack Obama, the film sees groups of red state paramilitary groups invade Brooklyn, New York in hopes of stirring up a civil war. “We are a united force with the goal of establishing an independent nation,” says one guerrilla soldier, “free from government tyranny and the right to live our lives the true American way.”
The story follows two sturdy survivalists, Stupe (Bautista), a janitor with a special set of skills and college student Lucy (Brittany Snow). Together they navigate through empty streets, dodging bullets from mercenaries with orders to shoot to kill. Sustaining injuries and making deals to stay alive, they try and piece together how civil war can break out in their neighbourhood.
The synopsis of “Bushwick” sounds more political than it actually is. This isn’t a cautionary tale or a social comment on the topsy-turvy state of modern partisan discourse. It dangles its toe in such matters—and others, including race relations in the Brooklyn neighbourhood—but it is, first and foremost, a shoot ‘em up videogame come to life on the big screen. Sure there are some clunky dialogue scenes and a sense that in the scheme of things all the bullets and bloodshed are for nothing but the film’s antiwar sentiment is a hollow platitude given the amount of ammunition used to tell the story.
THE QUEEN OF SPAIN: 2 STARS
Almost ten years ago, Penélope Cruz originated the role of upcoming Spanish movie star Macarena Granada in a frothy little confection called “The Girl of Your Dreams.” It’s years later in real and reel life that Granada and Cruz return to the screen.
Set in 1956, “The Queen of Spain” begins just as the official Franco international blockade comes to an end. Granada is now a huge international star lured back to her home country to star in the first American movie to be shot there since the dictator took power, but there are specific rules.
“I wrote this script about Columbus,” says writer Jordan Berman (Mandy Patinkin).
“Mr. Franco decided he could help us if we made something about Queen Isabella so I had to rewrite it. It took me three days and six bottles of whiskey. We worked under the watchful eyes of Franco’s people.”
Producer Sam Spiegelman (Arturo Ripstein) brings on an eclectic crew to bring the story of the “Catholic Queen” to life on the big screen. Berman is a blacklisted writer prevented from working in the States because of his communist leanings. Leading man Gary Jones (Cary Elwes) is gay, spending his off hours hitting on his male co-star. Also along for the ride is director John Scott (Clive Revill) legendary for his filmmaking and love of the hootch.
Complicating matters is Blas Fontiveros (Antonio Resines), Granada’s former director and the man who made her a star. Presumed after the events of the first film—he helped a Jewish extra escape the Nazis and was incarcerated and then disappeared—he returns, taking a job as the new film’s second unit director. No sooner has he begun work than he is arrested—turned in by his vindictive ex-wife—and forced to do hard labour. To save Granada, he concocts a rescue plan to shuttle her mentor (and former lover) to safety in France.
“The Queen of Spain” plays like an overstuffed piquillo pepper. Given the ingredients, it should be delicious but instead it is too much; sloppy and unsatisfying. Between the screwball comedy, historical perspective, lacklustre musical number in the film-within-the-film and story of intrigue, what should have been a breezy farce is a bit of a slog. A beautiful looking one—director Fernando Trueba pays fitting tribute to the films of the era—but a slog nonetheless.