True confession time, I’ve never been a huge fan of rap. This movie has completely changed that opinion. Even though I prefer rock and roll, I was drawn to this film. It looked sweet, funny and the idea of someone trying to make their life better appealed to me. To my delight, I loved the rap music performed in the movie and I completely empathized with the main character.
Patti Cake$ is about a plus-sized white girl, Patricia Dubrowski (Danielle Macdonald) dreaming of making it big as a rapper and getting away from her day to day struggles. Her mother, Barb (Bridget Everett) is a drunk never-has-been singer who belittles Patti’s dreams. They live with her grandmother, Nana (Cathy Moriarty) whose medical bills are drowning her family in debt. Patti Aka Patti Cake$ Aka Killer P writes her music while she works in a dive bar. Her best friend and partner in music, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), a pharmacist at a local store, pushes her to perform and make a demo tape. Eventually, the pair form an unlikely band with Nana and a Black death metal singer calling himself Basterd the AntiChrist (Mamoudou Athie).
The movie shares Patti’s path to forming her band, with tons of support from her Nana and how she keeps moving forward in the face of the negative people in her life, like her mother, the cop her mom dates and the guys in the neighborhood who call her Dumbo. As an overweight girl myself, I felt every verbal slap and I immediately rooted for Patti. Even though she has her heart crushed multiple times, she picks herself up, finds a way to help her family, taking on two jobs and keeps her dreams alive. She speaks her truth through her music and finds her voice by the end of the film.
Patti Cake$ is written and directed by Geremy Jasper who also wrote every single piece of original music in the film. The music is heartfelt and emotional, perfectly paired to the character of Patti, showing just how talented Jasper is. Every song gives voice to Patti and gives insight into her character. The music was so powerful that I left the movie wondering which soundtracks I want to purchase.
The narrative blends the classic story of the underdog with Patti’s relationship with her mother. One of the elements that is especially compelling is how the writer plays with the stereotypes within the rap community by having a white girl be the rapper, and Basterd playing death metal. It is the twisting of expectations that draws the story to a different level, challenging society’s vision of what a rapper should be. The writing allows viewers to empathize with Patti as she rises above the negativity, supported by her Nana, Jheri and Basterd.
It is the realism that helps the story flow. The locale feels Jersey, both in the working-class poverty that Patti must deal with and the layers of details, like the type of bar and the accents of the characters. I never for a moment suspected that Danielle Macdonald who plays Patti was not from Jersey. She’s actually from Australia. Not only are the characters realistic but so too are the moments when Patti struggles. She encounters many roadblocks on her path, and while I can’t give away the ending, I can say that it is fitting and believable in portraying what any artist goes through on their way to success.
Like I said, I completely connected to Patti, partly because I grew up being mocked in a similar fashion but I also sympathized because of Danielle Macdonald’s compelling performance. She managed to show emotion with tiny gestures and demonstrate both vulnerability and toughness. Even a lack of emotion, slumped shoulders or turning her back, conveyed her emotions. She is believable as a rapper, her ability with the rhymes and lyrics are key to the story and it is obvious that the actress performed each piece herself. Siddharth Dhananjay as Jheri managed to combine humor and wisdom with his character. Mamoudou Athie is beautifully soft spoken as Basterd whose true nature turns out to be wildly different than he shows us at the beginning of the movie. Both Cathy Moriarty as Patti’s Nana and Bridgett Everett as Barb are strong supporting characters, necessary to Patti’s growth as a character.
The story is predictable. Given that it is the story of an underdog, you know some of what she must go through to succeed and most of that doesn’t come as a surprise. We don’t learn a lot about her mother and why she isn’t working, why Patti has to support everyone. But that is a small complaint over a story that is well acted and well written, incorporating great musical performances as well. While I wanted a few more surprises, I enjoyed the characterization and the little touches of sentiment.
If you like rap, you will like this story with its unusual characters. Patti is very relatable and easily gives viewers someone to root for. You want to hope she will make all her dreams come true. The supporting cast does an incredible job, giving beautiful performances. The story is heartwarming, real and touching. The music was incredible and powerful. I loved the narrative and the characters but the music completely blew me away!
Rating: 4 stars
In a coming-of-age story straight out of Jersey, an unlikely rapper finds her voice as a one-of-a-kind hip-hop legend in the making in PATTI CAKE$, the first feature film from acclaimed commercial and music-video director Geremy Jasper. Set in gritty strip-mall suburbia, PATTI CAKE$ chronicles an underdog’s quest for fame and glory with humor, raw energy and some unforgettable beats.
Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Birdget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, and Cathy Moriarty
Written and directed by: Geremy Jasper