The Sundance sensation “Patti Cake$” may flow with formulaic beats but it’s got spirit for miles (eight of them, at least) and features one of the best mother-daughter relationships of the year.
Patricia Dombrowski (the terrific newcomer Danielle Macdonald) is an overweight, white New Jersey 23-year-old living a hardscrabble life in the shadow of New York City. She’s cruelly called “Dumbo” by many in town, but she’s got a nickname of her own. “Killa P”, she calls herself, because, as she states matter-of-factly, “I murder the beat”.
And she does. Our first glimpse of her is in a grimy, dirty-dish-strewn kitchen freestyling while munching on a Pop Tart. Later, her best friend and optimistic music partner Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay) will, from behind his pharmacy counter, announce her arrival on the store PA system, as she strolls down the toothpaste aisle, with the kind of grandiose pomp traditionally reserved for James Brown.
The distance between dream and reality has long been measured — and usually shrunk — by the movies, though the gap has rarely been so extreme as in “Patti Cake$”. When Patti arrives at her bartending job — the only employment keeping her and her mom (Bridget Everett) just out of their creditors’ reach — her boss tells her, “Toilet’s still clogged and the karaoke isn’t going to set itself up”. When she walks down the street rapping along with her headphones, she magically rises in the air with the music only to be brought down to earth by the blare of a horn.
Patti wants to be a rapper, a notion she’s a little reticent to even admit because of its apparent absurdity. But in Hareesh she has a faithful supporter. He nudges her into a battle at a local gas station where she’s derided as “white Precious” but holds her own in rhyme and attitude.
Patti’s hip-hop won’t be confused for anything that would, in our reality, be characterized as especially good. But trained on limericks by her chain-smoking grandmother (Cathy Moriarty), she’s verbally inventive and can unleash verses in torrents. She gathers together an unlikely group, with Hareesh on beat and back-up, and a painfully shy heavy-metal anarchist who goes by the name Basterd the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie) on guitar. They begin recording, saving up money and believing.
By piling on the eccentricity (the anarchist lives in a shack in the woods near a cemetery) and, later, the predictably manipulative moments (someone will die at just the right juncture), writer-director Geremy Jasper — a music-video veteran making his directorial debut — shows himself a good study of a well-trod genre: the Sundance-style indie underdog tale. The film was, after all, developed at the Sundance screenwriting lab where it surely was injected with the requisite quirks.
It’s easy to dismiss “Patti Cake$” as an indie “8 Mile”, and wonder why it’s seemingly so much easier to make movies about white rappers than black ones. Jasper at least acknowledges this in one painful scene where Patti’s idol derides her as a “culture vulture”.
But “Patti Cake$” is hard to resist because of Macdonald’s pluck. Patti has much more working against her than the color of her skin. Macdonald’s performance, a breakthrough for the previously unknown Australian actress, is too humble and winning. What really resonates is the dynamic between her and Everett, the foul-mouthed cabaret comedian.
Everett’s Barb is a wreck of dashed dreams, failed romance and way too much alcohol. Patti’s aspirations dredge up Barb’s lost future. She was a once-promising frontwoman for a hair band in the ’80s (her lone LP is titled “Barbed Wire”) who blames her failed music career on an unwanted pregnancy. When Everett and Macdonald are on screen together, something more soulful comes of “Patti Cake$”.
In the end, the kind of music Patti makes hardly matters. It’s that she has the gumption to go for it.
“Patti Cake$”, a Fox Searchlight release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use”. Running time: 108 minutes. Three stars out of four.
TAIPEI, Taiwan: Taiwanese singer and actress Rainie Yang stars in “The Tag Along 2”, a sequel to the 2015 hit that’s loosely based on a ghostly urban legend in Taiwan about a little girl who appears in the footage of a family’s hiking trip.
The only problem was, she wasn’t part of the family and no one seemed to recall seeing a young girl on the mountain that day.
The actual footage of the mysterious “little girl in red” was broadcast on Taiwanese television in the 1990s. Some believed that she was roaming the mountains looking for her next victim.
“The little girl in red was photographed really clearly”, Yang said in an interview with The Associated Press. “People have been talking about it for the last 20 years. It happened when I was very little but I still remember it well. So it definitely had a far reach”. (Agencies)
In the sequel, Yang plays a social worker whose daughter goes missing in the mountains. She joins the search and rescue team and while looking for her lost daughter gets haunted by the little girl in red.
“From there she discovered the obsession of the little girl in red”, Yang said. “Everyone has their obsession, whether you’re human or a ghost and when you have an obsession, you can’t let it go. That’s why you keep hanging around, and can’t get over it. So because she stumbled across all this, the story began”.
It is customary in Asia to hold a blessing ceremony before filming commences for horror movies to keep the cast and crew from harm’s way. Yang said that the sequel included a blessing ceremony before shooting every scene.
She found out later that quite a few “coincidences” happened while filming the first movie — which prompted director Cheng Wei-hao to take extra precautions while making the second.
“When they were shooting the first film, a lot of the men (crew members) will relieve themselves wherever it’s convenient. Sometimes they’re not being thoughtful about it, and no joke, the next day, they will get a fever. They will get sick the next day”.
“So they feel like they had to believe … You can’t go to toilet wherever you want. They realized that they needed to pay attention to that. So, to avoid people getting sick during the filming of the sequel, and because it’s very inconvenient to find a toilet (in wilderness), and also they didn’t want the crew to get sick to delay filming, that’s why at every set, there is a toilet just for our cast and crew”, Yang said.
The star of the first movie, Tiffany Hsu, returns in the sequel. This time, Hsu’s character takes a darker turn and is on the brink of a breakdown. Yang, who is friends with Hsu in real life, said that the challenges for both of them were to put aside their friendship and act like complete strangers when the cameras were rolling.
“We’ve known each other for about 18 years”, Yang said. “We have such great chemistry but there was no use for it in this movie, because her character lives in her world, and I’m focused on mine, so they didn’t have much interaction. For us, our challenges lie in pretending we’re strangers”, Yang said.
“The Tag-Along 2” hits theaters in Taiwan on Aug 25. (AP)
By Jake Coyle