What child is this?

Serving up a slice of cinematic true grit

Published: Dec 25 2020, 01:01:am

Wednesday, March 9, 1988

PATTI ROCKS. Co-written by John Jenkins, Karen Landry and Chris Mulkey. Music by Doug Maynard. Co-written and directed by David Burton Morris. Running time: 86 minutes. Restricted entertainment with the warning "frequent very coarse and suggestive language, occasional nudity and suggestive scenes.”
Patti Rocks (Karen Landry) is the Zalm’s kind of girl. Pregnant as the result of a casual liaison, she is determined to accept her blessing and have the baby.
    Billy Regis (ChrisMulkey) thought that Patti was his kind of girl. The sex was good, he tells Eddie Hassit (John Jenkins).
    Real good, Billy enthuses, adding a few graphic details. A lot better than with his wife Alice.
    Of course he didn't tell Patti that he was married. Why ruin the fun? And, besides, she wasn’t supposed to get pregnant.
    When she did, though, he expected her to be sensible. Billy is pro-choice just so long as the choice is to abort.
    The fact that Patti is choosing to bear her child has him running scared. What if she expects him to marry her? Worse still, what if she tries holding him up for support money?
    Billy has decided that the only thing to do is tell her the truth. He wants his lifelong friend Eddie to come with him, to keep him company on the long drive south from Minneapolis and, maybe, to help him work out what he should say.
    It's that simple.
     Minnesota-born director David Burton Morrls's movie Patti Rocks is about two guys rapping. Meeting Billy in a bar, Eddie reluctantly agrees to continue their conversation into the evening and on the road to Patti's place. Along the way, the talk is of sex and women, the sort of raw, revealing, crotch-level exchange calculated to shock the sensitive and induce apoplexy in doctrinaire feminists.
    It's also that complex.
    Listening to the boy-talk here, I couldn't help recalling the startlingly candid girl-talk in Lizzie Borden's 1987 feature Working Girls.  
    Just as Borden's picture showed us New York prostitutes objectifying their transactional relationships — "You can handle any man, as long as you know what his sexual preference is." — Morris's movie offers us a long look at the locker-room mentality of many males. Billy is a crude, self-absorbed philanderer, gross-spoken, offensively sexist and disturbingly real.
    Eddie is more adult, if less dynamic. Recently divorced, he's something of a romantic, an essentially decent sort who's still not over the pain of his failed marriage.     
    Then there is Patti. It's past midnight when our heroes arrive on her doorstep and, after Billy's highly subjective description, the woman herself is something of a surprise.
    As played by actor Mulkey's real-life wife Karen Landry, Patti is neither a bimbo nor an hysteric. Cool, independent and very much in control of her own life, she wants nothing more from Billy than the pleasure they've already shared, and a child that she has decided that she wants.
    A sharp, street-level examination  of contemporary life and and lust, Patti Rocks is an independently-made example of cinematic true grit.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1988. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: The Zalm you say? The reference is to one Bill Vander Zalm, and it situates the above review in its own particular time and place. The Zalm was British Columbia’s provincial premier in 1988, the year that Canada’s Supreme Court struck down the abortion provision in the federal Criminal Code. Vander Zalm was a famous — some would say infamous — right-to-lifer, and he declared that his government would deny funding for abortion clinics and for the provision of the procedure in public hospitals. The B.C. court sided with the Supremes. Its ruling on March 8, 1988, was front page news on March 9, the morning my Patti Rocks review was published in Vancouver. And, of course, Patti’s decision to have her child made her “the Zalm’s kind of girl.”  
    But wait, you say. Nowhere in the above review do I mention that Patti Rocks is a Christmas movie. At the time, it hardly seemed relevant. Despite the fact that seasonal decorations abound — the picture was shot in Minnesota’s Twin Cities region in December, 1986 — the time of year is entirely incidental to the story being told. Arriving in town in March, the movie was sold as a breath-of-fresh-air sex comedy for spring. And, by coincidence, it opened in the midst of a major social upheaval in this province, all circumstances that made the Christmas tree in Patti's apartment less important.
    An independent feature, Patti Rocks was seen at various film festivals, and won Deauville’s Coup de Coeur (Best Feature) of 1988. On his website, director David Burton Morris notes that Patti Rocks “was also the first motion picture in cinema history to be initially rated ‘X’ (by the U.S. Motion Picture Association) for its language. The rating was twice appealed and (the picture) was subsequently released with an 'R' rating.”

CANADIAN CHRISTMAS CHEER: Already posted to the Reeling Back archive are the three features mentioned in the introduction to today’s addition: director Phillip Borsos’s 1985 fantasy One Magic Christmas, as well as Bob Clark’s own seasonal double feature, Black Christmas (1974) and the classic A Christmas Story (1983).