★★1/2 out of ★★★★
Patti Cake$ is like a lot of movies. “Coming of age” and “trying to make it” stories, particularly about rappers, are not rare. So the film separates itself with well-written, developed and unique characters. It also follows a common narrative but one that’s very relatable: chasing a dream.
Patti Dumbrowski (Danielle Macdonald) aka Killa P, aka Patti Cake$, is a twenty three-year-old heavyset rapper who leads a crappy life. Her grandma is sick, causing her and her mom, Barb (Bridget Everett), to go into medical debt. They live somewhere between lower middleclass and squalor. She works a thankless job, her mom’s a mean alcoholic and her nickname, “Dumbo,” is screamed at her wherever she walks. But when she raps she’s invincible. She will steal your man, kill you with her rhymes, and leave you wishing you had her skills.
She’s matched with the equally unassuming and equally talented friend/partner in crime Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), whose smooth voice and fresh hooks make them a force to be reckoned with. For those familiar with the hip-hop world, he’d be Nate Dogg to her Warren G. Even if he’s a nerdy pharmacist. His positivity is infectious and genuine. He knows she’s better than any other rapper out there (even when she doubts herself) and that they are definitely going to make it. And then there’s their beat maker, affectionately known as “Anti-Christ” (Mamoudou Athie). He’s got that creepy, silent vibe going on but there’s a lot more to him than meets the eye. He’s sweet, shy and extremely talented.
The film’s biggest antagonist is Patti’s mom, Barb, but it’s interesting how they shape her role. She’s a washed-up alcoholic who looks and dresses like a woman half her age. In her early years, she was something of a sexy 80s rock singer. She talks about how far she could have gone had she not become pregnant with Patti. She blames Patti for her coming up short in life, puts Patti down, and shoots down her rap dreams. But despite all her negativity, she’s still somehow a likeable person. This is due in part to a great performance by Everett who creates a sensitive character who longs for the glory days and hates her life.
A central and recurring theme of Patti Cake$ is chasing dreams. The line between delusions of grandeur and simple positivity is gray. Patti gives up a few times in the film only to come back to her true calling. Early on in the film, she’s in a rap battle and gets badly made fun of by a macho fellow rapper. She shows a split second of vulnerability and hurt in her face before she destroys the guy. The rap battle best encapsulates Patti.
There are a few problems with the film. As stated before, it is very predictable. The failures and successes are obvious. Another issue is the final song they perform. Musically, it doesn’t fit the vibe and seems out of place. Overlooking clichés and parallels with other films of the genre, it’s a solid and entertaining piece of work.
The Good: Fun and interesting characters paired with an awesome soundtrack. This movie has a lot of heart.
The Bad: Predictable and the final act is very rushed. One second someone is dying, the next there is a romantic scene, the next there’s a runaway situation. It all gets to be a little much.
Final Word: It’s a darn good movie. It’s a movie that sets out to make you root for the underdog and it definitely succeeds.