Director: Geremy Jasper
Screenplay: Geremy Jasper
Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, McCaul Lombardi
Runtime: 108 Minutes
There’s an awful lot about Patti Cake$ to like, even if it doesn’t overstep its own generic foundations as a story of impoverished youths trying to make it in the rap/hip-hop scene.
The first feature of writer/director Geremy Jasper, the film is bright and well-shot and the way in which he balances light with the darkness is commendable. The harsh realities of living pay check to pay check in environments of urban decay are never too much to flatten the film’s sense of likability, especially in scenes focusing on the joyful experience of creation and camaraderie amongst its cast of misfits and social outliers.
Said cast is why the story feels like its sold so well, these are genuinely interesting characters with charismatic onscreen presences. Star Danielle Macdonald as Patricia "Dumbo" Dombrowski, an overweight white woman with restless dreams of celebrity and fame for her lyrical talents, is a delivers an eye-opening and openly sympathetic performance.
In a street battle early on, the young man she’s facing uses every method he can to make an example of her weight and physical appearance to attack her, whereas her response after the initial blow is to take it in a far more personal and cutting direction where she weaponizes her own status and demeanour against him.
The supporting cast of Siddharth Dhananjay as Jheri and Mamoudou Athie as Bastard The Antichrist fill in the gaps, with Athie in particular as a strange and captivating form of company even with minimal dialogue. But the central relationship between Patti and her ageing rocker mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), is where its heart is found. Barb is a persistently disappointing deadbeat to her daughter, but as Barb says at one point before downing her third shot of the evening, “Blood is thicker than Jaeger”.
The music is oddly endearing even in its relative innocence as the beats of their group ‘PBNJ’ play out over the films best montage sequence. Like earworms, they stick around, but it does expose the fact that it’s very likely Patti might not be at all destined for greatness as she hands out flyers and CD’s in an age of downloads and social media. It’s a great marker for placing it in dead-end middle America where resources might be limited, but the more mistakes she makes in the lead up to the conventional Battle of the Band's style climax make it a little harder to take.
Its not like any of these tropes haven’t been accomplished better before in the likes of 8 Mile, but it’s the sweet nature and the leading performance that keeps it light and engaging for the most part even if it outstays its welcome.