In every corner of the world, people from all different backgrounds with all different types of body types dream of stardom. When we first see Patricia (Danielle MacDonald) in writer-director Geremy Jasper’s Sundance hit Patti Cake$, she’s in the midst of that dream. She takes the stage beside her hip hop idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah) surrounded by vibrant green lights and thousands of adoring fans. Then her alarm buzzes and the young woman is back in her mundane, difficult life in Bayonne, New Jersey. It’s a fantastic opening scene of a sharp piece of filmmaking that touches on issues of class, cultural appropriation, family, music, and the elusive nature of our dreams.
Life outside her dreams isn’t so nice for Patricia. She’s hounded by bill collectors over the mounting medical bills for her sickly grandmother (Cathy Moriarty). She works at a dingy bar with limited hours and the constant visits from her mother (Bridget Everett), who wallows in her dreams of faded music glory through the copious consumption of alcohol. Patricia is constantly taunted by the men of her neighborhood, even the one man she has a crush on, Danny (MaCaul Lombardi), who calls her “Dumbo” despairingly. She finds a respite from the cruelty and despair of her world through her dreams of music superstardom, working on songs with her good friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). The duo struggles to get their music off the ground but things start to change when they meet Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a soft-spoken young man with plenty of musical talent though it does have an abrasive style. Patricia works various jobs and moonlights as a musician in the hopes that her songs will be her salvation.
Even as Patti Cake$ dives into some sad aspects to Patricia’s life of toiling in low wage jobs and living with an alcoholic mother, Geremy Jasper never allows the film to lose its sense of fun. We’re able to vicariously find the joy that drives Patricia and her dreams of stardom. There’s a wit to the dialogue and situations that is matched by the visual style that Jasper brings to the story. The film captures so vividly the desperation that grips Patricia in her life and you can understand that she believes her only way out is through her music. Patti Cake$ strikes a deft balance in its joyous examination of the creative process and the drama of life on the edge of financial and personal ruin.
Patti Cake$ also works with its musical aspects. So often movies about musicians on the rise feature songs that aren’t quite catchy, but the music by Jasper and Jason Binnick is really quite catchy. Danielle MacDonald belts out the rhymes and the backing provided by Siddharth Dhananjay give the film a number of ear worms that you’ll be humming or singing for days after you’ve left the theater.
Danielle MacDonald delivers a breakout performance that’s truly astonishing. She takes you deep in the heart and mind of this character and never for second do you doubt the emerging actress’ authenticity. MacDonald is given plenty to work opposite with Siddarth Dhananjay and Mamoudou Athie giving the film strong supporting characters with their own unique dynamic with the film’s leading character. Also providing standout work is the grizzled performance by Cathy Moriarty as the sickly grandmother and the heartbreaking performance of Bridget Everett as the mother wasting away in broken dreams and the bottle.
Patti Cake$ is a movie that its characters and the audience on a number of ups and downs. Sometimes Geremy Jasper’s film takes the more predictable route, but it’s not enough to derail the vibrant, powerful energy that the film captures, and that Danielle MacDonald captures in her excellent performance. You don’t have to be the world’s biggest hip hop fan to enjoy the blend of comedy, music, and drama at the heart of Patti Cake$. Here’s a movie that finds the healing aspects of creativity and the power of perseverance during the most trying times of our lives, when reality beats us down. Patti Cake$ gets beat down a little bit, but she never gives up.
A vibrant blend of humor, music, and drama, Patti Cake$ features a breakout performance by Danielle MacDonald as a young woman trying to escape her mundane life in Bayonne, New Jersey through her musical aspirations.