MOVIE: PATTI CAKE$
STARRING: DANIELLE MACDONALD; BRIDGET EVERETT; SIDDHARTH DHANANJAY
DIRECTED BY: GEREMY JASPER
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
The rags to riches story is standard when it comes to movies that premiere at the Sundance film festival. Although it may be viewed as cliché at this point, that doesn’t mean that Patti Cake$ isn't one of the better ones of recent years. Patti believes she will be a star someday, played by the extremely talented Danielle Macdonald, who lives in the rougher parts of New Jersey, and works as a bartender trying to make it out of her broken home with her talent for hip-hop music. That may remind you of 8 Mile, and it is very close in plot, but Patti Cake$ is a strong combination of succeeding when the odds are stacked against you and an impressive first film from director Geremy Jasper.
A cool narrative decision is that in between Patti's daily work hustle, we're given a glimpse into her busy imagination, where Jasper films her dreams in a green lit haze that turns into a rap video for her favorite artist, O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), but when she's not setting her sights on a future as a hip-hop star, Patti must deal with the reality of her poor family, an absent father, a sick grandma (Cathy Moriarty), and her often drunk mother Barb (Bridget Everett) who puts pressure of her own failures on Patti. It helps that she has a friend in Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), a pharmacist by day and her uplifting posse at night. Together they make killer music as PB&J.
In order to make a film like Patti Cake$ work you need to have a lead who can pull off the confidence and rapping skills. Danielle Macdonald has it all. Her performance is superb, with rhyming skills that embarrass her foes, and an attitude that defies the haters. The neighborhood is filled with drug dealers who think Patti is a joke, constant rejection from her mother, but the reassurance from grandma and Jheri, leads to the forming of a super group when Patti takes interest in a rock anarchist named Basterd (Mamoudou Athie). They take their mad skills to an open mic night, but Patti finds it difficult to reach her dreams, when her family problems get in the way.
One film that comes to mind when watching Patti Cake$, is Chad Hartigan's darling indie film from last year- Morris From America. Both films are fish out of water stories, where the lead character is fighting against the currents of life along with fighting racial divides. Both films reveal an uplifting story of humanity, where Danielle does her best to help keep her mom aware that it is okay to dream no matter what age. The problems for Patti exist when she faces negative feedback from others, but her grandma- a surprising performance from Raging Bull's Cathy Moriarty- is there to inspire her to keep going and provide a sick background track vocal for her.
Patti Cake$ eventually leads to a School of Rock style finale, with Patti testing her skills at a local radio talent competition. The narrative is not entirely predictable, but the main problems here are that we have heard this story before. Either way, with a cool hip-hop soundtrack, strong debut direction from Geremy Jasper, and the emergence of a rising star in Macdonald, there is plenty to praise about Patti Cake$.
Written by: Leo Brady