That “Patti Cake$” is the first feature film of writer / director Geremy Jasper bodes very well for his future as a serious indie filmmaker. This coming of age story about a big girl with even bigger dreams has a distinct, visionary voice that makes it as meaningful as it is memorable.
Danielle Macdonald is Patti, an underprivileged, overweight young woman who longs for a better life and a way out of her gritty blue collar New Jersey town. Patti dreams of becoming a rap star, spending her very little time between juggling multiple jobs scribbling lyrics in her notebooks and spitting rhymes with the locals. She lives with her ailing grandma (Cathy Moriarty, a real hoot here) and her man-juggling mother Barb (Bridget Everett) who gave up rock star dreams of her own when she became pregnant as a teenager.
Patti’s loyal best friend Jheri (the utterly charismatic and charming Siddharth Dhananjay) provides backup to her freestyle rap songs, and the pair find unlikely solidarity and inspiration in the reclusive homeless musician Bastard the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie). The rag-tag group of truly talented misfits band together to create original music, forming the rap group PB&J.
This is a classic underdog story that’s actually a little unpredictable. It sticks to the formula of its origins, yet the story so genuinely eccentric that it creates a fresh spin on the classic genre. The film is extremely rough around the edges, but it’s this roughness that gives it a powerful authenticity. The cast of unknowns give impressive, convincing performances, and the theme of self-expression through music is realized with sharp-tongued, funny, and very raw original rap tracks. (You’re going to want to buy the soundtrack to this one).
There are a couple of stumbles, mostly due to some forced sentimentality surrounding Barb and Patti’s mother/daughter relationship, but it doesn’t slow the film down for long. Instead, the raw energy of the movie takes over. “Patti Cake$” celebrates artistic determination and the joy that derives from chasing your dream while never failing to march to your own beat, but it also is an unexpected ode to entrepreneurship. Work hard and do what you love, even if you never realize any rewards.