Danielle MacDonald Cathy Moriarty Bridgett Everett Siddharth Dhananjay Mamoudou Athie
Is there a more unlikely rapper than an overweight, kinky blonde-haired white girl without much in the way of charm? That’s Patricia “Patti” Dembrowski aspiring to become a famous rapper in New Jersey. One of the film’s strongest points is illustrating just how demeaning others can be toward someone like that. She’s been teased since childhood—especially by one cruel kid from junior high—so has developed a thick skin, but it still hurts and can knock her off her feet (literally), especially when she’s caught up in her passion—rap.
Up-and-coming writer/director/musician Geremy Jasper is impressive in his first feature film, in that he has found the perfect actress (all the way from Australia) to play the role with a New Jersey accent and the chops to rap; he has constructed an engaging story with emotional depth; and he steers the production expertly through potential mine fields (diversity in race, musical genres, family issues) with grace and care. Danielle MacDonald is experienced in television drama mostly, but has no trouble transitioning over to moviedom. She adds spunk to her character and easily conveys all the ranges of emotion Patti will experience as she rides the up and down course of a musician trying to make it. Clearly, she could not have succeeded without some very special people in her corner.
At home—which is a squalid apartment shared with her unsupportive and rather ungrateful alcoholic mother Barb (Everett), who competes with her and denigrates her taste—and her ailing Nana (Moriarty) in a wheelchair, who is faithfully in her corner every step of the way. Another supporter is her friend and fellow musician Hareesh (Dhananjay)—actually a pharmacist—who is her personal cheering section able to overcome all her negative self-statements, although he does have his limits, which is to the good. Finally, owing to Patti’s undaunted pursuit of a punk rocker living in a shack by the cemetery equipped with all the latest technology, Bob, self-named the “Antichrist” (Athie), is persuaded to join Patti and Hareesh in producing the group’s first CD in their new name, “PPNJ.”
In the beginning of the film, I found it hard to sit through all the scenes at home where no one ever seems to pick anything up, except Barb, whose hand is continually picking up a drink; endure the taunting on the street of “Dumb Patti” and violence toward her by a thug; and see how Patti scrambles with everything she can muster to support her mother and grandmother. But gradually, some good things begin to happen, Patti learns how to manage and cope better, and she gets some breaks. It’s not all rosy; there are still some downers, but it’s not hopeless.
Patti Cake$ will not be to everyone’s taste and the viewer must have some appreciation for rap music, but those inspired by “true grit”, creativity, and sensitivity to social issues, will see much to be entertained and inspired by. Those familiar with Bridget Everett’s and Cathy Moriarty’s early careers, will get a nostalgic kick out of their roles in this film.
Take a seat on the roller coaster ride to stardom—at least almost there.