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Empire (Australasia) - - On Screen - HAMISH MACBAIN

DI­REC­TOR Geremy Jasper

CAST Danielle Macdonald, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Mo­ri­arty, Sid­dharth Dhanan­jay, Brid­get Everett

PLOT A white fe­male rap­per (Macdonald) dreams of es­cap­ing her small­town ex­is­tence and be­com­ing a star. With the help of her mis­fit friends, she hits upon a unique sound and sets about get­ting their demo tape into the hands of any­one who mat­ters.

IN THE LAST half decade, “cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion” has be­come an ac­cu­sa­tion com­monly lev­elled at any white rap­per who dares to so much as throw a gang sign. In 2013, we saw Lily Allen get it in the neck from the Twit­terati for the twerk­ing black and Asian back-up dancers in the video for Hard Out Here. At the end of last year, Honey G— a mid­dle-aged white woman — got the same treat­ment week in, week out on The X Fac­tor: her many crit­ics in­cluded Lily Allen, who de­scribed her per­for­mances as “so wrong on so many lev­els”.

The pro­fes­sion­ally out­raged will likely find the open­ing scenes here sim­i­larly prob­lem­atic. We meet the white 23-year-old Pa­tri­cia (Macdonald), aka Killer P, via a dream se­quence in which she is on stage bask­ing in the adu­la­tion of a huge crowd hang­ing on her ev­ery rhyme about “the game”. She wakes up, and we see that in re­al­ity she lives in a small New Jersey house with her al­co­holic mother (Everett), who is a failed hair-metal singer and re­gards hip-hop as not even be­ing mu­sic. Pa­tri­cia works a dead­end bar job and is a long way from mak­ing her dreams come true. Her part­ner in crime is an Asian boy (and Drake-style R’N’B singer) named Jheri (Dhanan­jay) who works in a chemist and is the only one who recog­nises her lyri­cal ge­nius and dex­trous flow. He eggs her on into a car park rap bat­tle — al­ways an ef­fec­tive, ten­sion-cre­at­ing movie de­vice — that she wins against a white, male rap­per, but which sees her then take a punch in the face from her vic­tim. Haters, it be­comes clear, are go­ing to hate.

En­ter the film’s cen­tral, racial bal­ance re ad­dress­ing African-amer­i­can char­ac­ter: a near-mute, Mar­i­lyn Man­son-es­que, coloured con­tact lens-wear­ing, Satanic-noise-rocker named Bob (Athie), who also goes by the name Bas­terd The An­tichrist (in other words, the sort of kid who you might ex­pect to be white). To­gether with Jheri and — yes, re­ally —

Pa­tri­cia’s grandma (Mo­ri­arty), they form a band, com­plete with the quite in­evitable, “We’re re­ally onto some­thing!” scene in which this di­verse gang of out­siders spon­ta­neously cre­ate a song that is sup­posed to be un­de­ni­ably ge­nius, but in truth is just en­dear­ingly naff. From here, first-time writer/di­rec­tor Jasper con­tin­ues with a tone that is kitsch and earnest in equal mea­sure, pro­ceed­ings cli­max­ing with the also-in­evitable tal­ent con­test — do tal­ent con­tests like this ex­ist any­where other than in cli­matic movie scenes any­more? — where the band are ini­tially booed and have stuff thrown at them, but are then screamed at like gods be­fore their first verse has even fin­ished.

There are plenty of you-can­not-be-se­ri­ous mo­ments through­out here, but the per­for­mance of Macdonald saves this Sun­dance fes­ti­val hit from just be­ing all a bit silly. She is star­tlingly com­pelling from the off, the des­per­a­tion on her face dur­ing ev­ery knock­back mak­ing you yearn along with her. She bounces fan­tas­ti­cally off all her sup­port­ing cast, al­low­ing us to over­look the im­plau­si­bil­ity of the story and to buy into the cen­tral, obvious themes of never giv­ing up on your dreams, that friend­ship and fam­ily are more im­por­tant than money and star­dom, and that be­ing a bit dif­fer­ent should be some­thing that is cel­e­brated. When the feel­good pay­off fi­nally comes, it feels gen­uinely fan­tas­tic.

VER­DICT A story we’ve seen told a hun­dred times be­fore feels fresh thanks to Danielle Macdonald’s bril­liant per­for­mance, han­dling both the drama and the rap­ping in style.

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