Patti Cake$

Patti Cake$

2017, R, 108 min. Directed by Geremy Jasper. Starring Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty, Sahr Ngaujah, MC Lyte.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 25, 2017

Patti Cake$ might be what you’d get if you shifted the gritty Midwestern musician origin stories of Eminem’s 8 Mile and Prince’s Purple Rain into the body of a plus-sized white girl in northern New Jersey who dreams of success as a rap superstar. Which is to say that Patti Cake$ treads familiar territory while also presenting something fresh and original. The narrative is too often pat and predictable, but the character of Patti Dombrowski – aka Patti Cake$, aka Killa P, aka Dumbo – and the knowingly shot streets of broken-down Jersey where the New York City skyline, so close yet so far, taunts residents, make the film stand out. Like its titular protagonist, this film is an ingratiating diamond in the rough.

What Patti Cake$ lacks in narrative creativity, the film makes up for in its casting. The three female leads shape the material into something memorable and create indelible characters. Patti Dombrowski is fearlessly played by Australian actress Danielle Macdonald in her breakout American role. Patti’s mother Barb, an alcoholic who abandoned her own singing career when she became pregnant with Patti, is played with hard-hearted sensitivity by alt-cabaret star Bridget Everett (Fun Mom Dinner), while an almost unrecognizable Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull) plays Patti’s wheelchair-bound nana. These three actresses are the movie’s secret weapon. First-time feature writer and director Geremy Jasper, who also composed much of the movie’s soundtrack, can be forgiven for many of his novice storytelling mistakes in light of his shrewd casting decisions.

Patti lives with her mother and nana in something more akin to a flophouse than a home. With overdue bills a constant plague, Patti works two dead-end bartending jobs, and holds her mother’s hair back when she pukes into the toilet after cadging drinks and singing karaoke at the bar where Patti works. Her only friend is a pharmacist who performs with her under the name Jheri (Dhananjay), and supports her when she’s mocked and called Dumbo by the freestyling rappers on the street corner who ridicule the heavyset white girl’s rap aspirations. Soon, a furtive figure who calls himself Basterd the Antichrist (Athie) piques Patti’s interest, and she discovers his lair in a park behind a cemetery where he has a homemade recording studio setup. A demo and love affair emerge, and after slipping a copy to a DJ at an event where Patti is bartending, our girl is ready to cross the Hudson to the New York side. Old scores are settled and Patti gets the all-clear for a meteoric rise. Patti Cake$’ fairy-tale ending obscures the reality experienced in the music biz by most large girls with even larger talents.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Danielle Macdonald Films
Skin
Brutal true-life tale of escaping life as a neo-Nazi

Dec. 13, 2019

The East
This crypto-thriller that explores moral grounds before turning gauzy is the latest film from Sound of My Voice's Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij.

Marjorie Baumgarten, June 14, 2013

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Stardust
Bowie before he became Ziggy in this less-than-glittering docudrama

Nov. 27, 2020

Sound Unseen Review: <i>Stardust</i>
Sound Unseen Review: Stardust
The birth of Bowie the icon retold with more glimmer than glitter

Nov. 16, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Patti Cake$, Geremy Jasper, Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty, Sahr Ngaujah, MC Lyte

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle