Yo, this film is dope. Patti Cake$ (yes, the title is actually spelled with the $ sign) is an original comedy about a chubby white girl in New Jersey who dreams of being a famous rapper. Australian actress Danielle Macdonald plays Patti, a young, impoverished, overweight woman living with her mom and grandmom in “Dirty Jersey”. Her best friend is an Indian man, played by newcomer Siddharth Dhananjay, who works as a pharmacist. Together they spend their nights spitting rhymes, catching shows, and strolling the streets of New Jersey with the skyscrapers of Manhattan taunting them in the distance. When they meet a musician known as “Basterd”, played by Mamoudou Athie, they realize this might be their chance to make it big.
Patti Cake$ is one of those uniquely Sundance films that seems destined to break out of the festival and find an audience. We’ve seen films about wannabe rappers before, but not one about a white girl in Jersey and her Indian sidekick battling the best of Jersey’s millionaire rappers. The film mostly revolves around Patti, real name Patricia Dombrowski, feuding with her deadbeat mom named Barb (played by Bridget Everett), who was once a successful singer in a band but now just gets drunk and sings karaoke. The characters are all wacky and kind of off-putting, but oddly likable in their own ways. Of course, the story is really about Patti finding her groove and getting a chance to prove to everyone (including her haters) that she has real talent.
As crowd-pleasing as it is to see a story of very unlikely individuals making a name for themselves, the script is brought down by all the cliche trappings of any other story just like this. It has the typical third act screw up, followed by an obvious moment of triumph and reconnection. It has the typical twist where she gets to meet her idol, but he puts her down and she has to recover from that. It has so many of the expected tropes of dramatic screenwriting, that it starts to get tedious by the time she actually takes the stage. I really wanted more, and I really wanted to like this film more, but it never lives up to its potential. Even the songs, as creative and as fun as they are in the film, aren’t memorable enough to make me want to buy the album.
There’s no doubt that some people will go crazy for this film once they get a chance to see it. Patti Cake$ has heart, and has relentless passion, as well as some catchy rhymes, but it’s not the impeccable breakout I was hoping it would be. Danielle Macdonald is awesome as Patti, and she really carries the film. Without her leading the way, this wouldn’t have been nearly as engaging as it is, and she deserves credit for making the whole film work. The music is loud, there’s some hilarious comedy scattered throughout that does connect, and it’s amusing enough to say it’s enjoyable to watch. But it’s not a home run. Patti Cake$ isn’t going to go platinum, but maybe her follow-up album will. Until that drops, this is still worth a listen at least one time.
Alex’s Sundance 2017 Rating: 7 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter – @firstshowing