Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty
Director: Geremy Jasper
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Rating: R for Three Generations of Women Spouting Profanity, Showing Off Cleavage at Job Interviews
Release Date: August 18, 2017 (Limited)
Most rappers are still black and male, but the genre is such a permanent fixture in the culture at large that any deviation from the demographic norm is hardly surprising. So I appreciate that Patti Cake$ treats the race and gender of its protagonist as generally no big deal one way or the other. After all, she does live in the “Dirty Jersey” melting pot of Bergen County (right across Manhattan along the George Washington Bridge). Alas, while Patti Cake$ does spit to its own rhythm, it hews pretty closely to the beats of the struggling artist narrative. But what it lacks in structural ingenuity, it makes up for with the variety of seemingly disparate parts that complement each other in its collage.
Patricia Dombrowski (Australian newcomer Danielle Macdonald) is feisty enough on her own, but it is thanks to her collaborators that she really shines. The group they form is christened “PBNJ,” wherein P is Patti, J is her longtime best friend on the hooks Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), B is disaffected but sensitive anarchist beat-mixer Basterd, and N is Patti’s Nana (Cathy Moriarty), whose chainsmoke-ravaged rasp is adorably sampled and looped into the chorus. As far as rap goes, their tracks aren’t exactly mind-blowing, or game-changing, or groundbreaking, and the movie concedes as much. Still, they are plenty rousing. That relative lack of prowess holds it back from being an all-time great in the genre, but it is powerful enough, and the modesty is appreciated.
If Patti Cake$ sticks with you, it will most likely be because of how generously it lets you into Patti’s life. She is an upstanding young adult, putting just as much effort into into the money-making aspect of her hustle as she does the rhyming side. Her relationship with her mother Barb (Bridget Everett) is as affecting as it ought to be. Barb is not exactly supportive of Patti’s hip-hop ambitions, but it is not because she is unsupportive in general, far from it. Nor is it because she does not understand the life of an artist – in fact, she had a bit of a musical career herself as the lead singer of a lady metal band that was cut short just as they were on the edge of big-time success. It’s just that she’s old school, set in her own way, and just hasn’t seen any evidence that rap is a genre worth pursuing. That is why the final performance scene at an amateur showcase concert is so crucial. It wraps everything up thematically and unites every member of Patti’s family, putting her story squarely in the file of “crowd-pleaser.”
Patti Cake$ is Recommended If You Like: 8 Mile, Affectionately making fun of North Jersey, Mother-Daughter Bonding
Grade: 3 out of 5 Acronym Band Names