Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use and a brief nude image
Written and directed by Geremy Jasper
Starring Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty and more
Grade: Two and a half stars
It’s almost everything you’ve seen before, but with a few very important twists.
“Patti Cake$,” the first full-length feature film from writer/director Geremy Jasper, plays nearly every cliche in the “aspiring musician wants to make it big” playbook. Here, however, the classic story goes to characters who don’t normally get to experience it – a heavy white woman dreams of being the next great rapper, her Indian-born best friend dreams of laying down the vocals to her raps, and the black guy is a heavy goth who just wants his weirdness to be accepted. Those key changes bring both a freshness and sweetness to a story that sometimes gets bogged down under the weight of its own predictability.
The story will be familiar to anyone who’s seen “8 Mile” – a young person whose family lives hand-to-mouth scrapes by on menial jobs while they dream of making it big through rap. They have an absent father, a complicated relationship with their mother, and struggle against rejection and disappointment while they realize their dream. Though it’s not exactly from the “8 Mile” formula, “Patti Cake$” also includes the classic cliché of “the other family member who secretly understands you so much better than your mom does,” seen here in the form of an extremely snarky grandmother who encourages Patti’s rampant rhyming.
It’s a story we’ve all heard a dozen times, but Danielle McDonald delivers it well as the titular character. She believes passionately in her rhymes, rapping giving her a confidence she doesn’t possess in any other area of her life. It’s a surprisingly natural fit – there are plenty of girls who have volumes of high-school poetry waiting in the back of our closets – and McDonald switches easily between Patti’s swagger and the hunched shoulders she wears in most other areas of her life.
Her best friend Jheri, played by Siddharth Dhananjay, believes in her just as much. He’s better at being their hype man than she is, and is clearly more confident with himself, but the interaction between the two of them is both easy and sweet. They’re outcasts who found each other, and their friendship is one of the most lovely and genuine things about the movie.
Mamoudou Athie, playing a character we'll call B.A. because the character's actual name probably can't be said in a family newspaper, is more unexpected. I read a review saying that his character is an inaccurate portrayal of disaffected black youth today, but to me that's missing the point entirely. The character is meant to be an accurate portrayal of a goth, complete with the melodramatic fake name and the surprisingly mundane backstory. You hardly ever see black goths, and you never see them anywhere near aspiring rappers, and Athie gives the character a low-key sweetness that makes him endearing despite the animal skulls.
They’re not quite enough to make a too-familiar story seem new. But they’ll be enough to make you happy they get their ending.