Movie Review: Patti Cake$
Geremy Jasper cooks up Hollywood’s sweetest formula in his debut feature about a young woman from New Jersey who craves to make it big in the rap game
Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Cathy Moriarty, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, MC Lyte, Sahr Ngaujah
Directed by: Geremy Jasper
Running time: 1 hr 48 mins
By Katherine Monk
According to the slang dictionary, not to mention DJ Khaled, Flo Rida and 50 Cent, “cake” can mean two things in a rap lyric: “a nice, big ass” or “money.”
It’s helpful to know such things if you plan on quoting Marie Antoinette to a teenager any time soon, but it’s particularly useful with regards to Geremy Jasper’s new movie Patti Cake$. A coming of age indie that roared out of the gate at Sundance, Patti Cake$ is the story of Patricia (Danielle Macdonald), a big gal from New Jersey with big dreams of becoming the next rap sensation.
Patti has one kind of cake, but she’s desperately lacking in another. Dirt poor and burdened by her self-destructive mother (Bridget Everett), Patti works at the local dive slinging beer so she can care for her ailing Nana (Cathy Moriarty), but what she really wants is the glitz and glamour of the big time: A mansion in Malibu, photo shoots and free clothes, plus the undying affection of a mass following.
Patti needs to prove herself. She needs to make the haters swallow their slags, and in order to do that, she needs to serve up her sweet rhymes on a silver platter.
There’s nothing new about Patti’s dream. In Hollywood, it’s a recurring one that dates back to Tinseltown’s infancy, so Jasper can be forgiven for the fact Patti Cake$ feels like Rocky and 8 Mile meets Precious.
We love underdog stories. We love watching someone transform his or her life through sheer will power. We also love the hint of disaster waiting in the wings, reminding us that life is not a movie and fame is often assigned at random. Hollywood’s version of success may well be little more than smoke, mirrors and low camera angles.
Fittingly, that’s exactly how Patti Cake$ opens: In a fog of emerald green, as a young woman finds the spotlight before a crowd of adoring fans. It’s Patti — looking like Adele and sounding like Nicky Minaj — standing alongside her hero, a rap star named O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah).
Just as we buy into the music video feel, Jasper unveils the forgery and shows us how Patti really lives: in a small Jersey home that’s constantly under threat of foreclosure, thanks to her hard-drinking mom and her bad taste in men.
Patti’s only solace is writing lyrics in her notebooks and indulging in her rap star fantasy as Killa P — a woman with all the words and a never-say-die attitude. Enabling this alternate reality is her only real friend, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), a pharmacist with a desire to wear doo-rags whenever possible.
Jheri is the character who makes Patti lovable because in essence, he is her innocence and her conscience rolled into one relatable sidekick. Jheri believes in Patti and encourages her to put her dreams into some practical context, which to him, means holding a CD release party at the local peeler bar.
The whole plot has about as much mystery as a performance on a pole, but it’s the brief encounters with believable disaster that give the movie its winning character. Sure, it’s hokey and pat, but Patti and Jheri are fantastic characters. They’re deep enough to bounce off the shallow obstacles of the surrounding characters without losing their inherent humanity.
The whole plot has about as much mystery as a performance on a pole, but it’s the brief encounters with believable disaster that give the movie its winning character.
For that matter, even the shallow characters who feel like screenwriter cut-outs bristle with real dimension. Comedienne Bridget Everett shows off her vocal chops as well as her meaty cleavage as the flawed mom who had her own dreams of musical success in an ‘80s hair band. When the climax finds her delivering the chorus for a power ballad called Tough Love, you almost wonder if Eddie Money had a sex change and a plastic surgeon who loved Jeff Daniels.
Everything feels just a little off, like a piece of clothing that wasn’t cut right: It clings in the wrong places and gapes in your face, but that’s part of its low-budget charm, its indie feel and its surprisingly unique vibe.
Women like Patti don’t often get the spotlight, let alone the starring role in a movie with dramatic ambitions. Full credit to Australian actor Danielle Macdonald for not only landing the Jersey accent, but also the verbal fist of underdog rap. She says she treated the verses like they were Shakespearean sonnets, and she nails every single one. The actor’s dedication bleeds through the character, animating a crepe-like piece of cliche, giving it rich layers of goofy flaws, and icing it with some soft, buttery scenes that may seem too sweet — yet suit the recipe.
Sure, you may think you don’t want a piece, but Patti Cake$ proves irresistible.
THE EX-PRESS, August 31, 2017