Review: ‘Patti Cake$’ Comes Straight Outta Jersey with Endearing Underdog Story

"Patti Cake$" (2017) - Movie Review

‘Patti Cake$’ Plays to Formula, But Has Much More to Rap About

Straight outta Sundance, Patti Cake$ is undeniably the feel-good toe-tapping sensation from the annual January film festival. Much like John Carney’s coming-of-age rock drama, Sing Street, which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, the journey of Patti Cake$ is simply an uplifting anthem of self-discovery and perseverance.

We follow the eponymous character, Patti Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), who has big dreams of becoming a famous rapper. She has these vivid dreams of performing alongside her idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). His entire gimmick is centered around Illuminati-ish symbols and The Wizard of Oz. The initial dream sequence might have you thinking you’re in the wrong movie. But make no mistake, the outlandish fantasy is what fuels Patti’s aspirations.

By day, she plugs away at unskilled jobs, struggling to keep her family’s head above water. But by night, she’s Killa P. a.k.a. Patti Cake$, engaged in fierce rap battles on the streets of North Jersey. The locals don’t take her too seriously, nicknaming her “Dumbo” due to her plus size. The only one in her corner is her pharmacist friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). Even her mother Barb (Bridget Everett) is skeptical of such outrageous dreams. She herself was a former singer before succumbing to alcoholism.

As a solo artist, she finds little to no success as a rising star. Later on, Patti and Jheri team up with a solitary musician named Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), who deems himself the Antichrist. Patti’s own grandma (Cathy Moriarty) gets sucked into the music making, providing some of the basic vocals. After spouting out four simple letters – P, B, N and J, grandma’s additions are spun into a catchy rap number called “PBNJ.” The lyrics are intimate with Patti, referencing her struggles as an artist and a shout-out to her inspirational headquarters, “The Gates of Hell.”

SEE ALSO: Sundance 2017 Review: Patti Cake$ Hits All the Right Beats

Writer-director Geremy Jasper aims for maintaining Patti Cake$ as a formulaic underdog story. But make no mistakes, that’s no crutch like one would immediately assume. Its endearing storytelling is what keeps it energetic and crowd-pleasing from start to finish. It’s a common theme we’ve come to witness from many of the Sundance offerings earlier this year. And while Patti endures her fair share of creative and familial turmoils over the course of the film, you’re never urged into a dramatic submission. In short, it’s 8-Mile under an indie lens.

Australian actress, Danielle Macdonald is a clear-cut gem in this film. Between a few one-time performances on various television shows and a supporting role in 2013’s The East, there just hasn’t been that breakout performance. Patti Cake$ changes that playing field entirely. There’s this duality of charm and reckoning force that’s difficult to match. She pulls it off brilliantly. Whether slaving away at a menial catering company or rapping her heart away, she’s always hitting the right beats. She even tackles the Jersey accent, disguising her Australian one with such confidence. We can only hope that this will be the first of many mesmerizing roles to come her way in the near future.

And while rap plays a critical role in the film, you don’t have to be a fan of the genre to genuinely appreciate the artistry at work here. It follows suit with 8 Mile, Hustle and Flow and bio-pic Straight Outta Compton, which transcend the niche genre in exchange for noteworthy storytelling and inspirational flair. It’s that coming-of-age yarn that plays to many of the beats we come to expect, but want to squeeze tight and say we’re with you all the way.

After a brisk 108 minutes, Patti Cake$ is a real treat for those who stay true to their dreams. It seems like we’ve gotten plenty of those as of late, but this is surely one of the better ones. It doesn’t matter if you’re a struggling actress in Los Angeles or a rapper from Jersey, the message remains constant. Never lose sight of what you want most in life.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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