Film review: “Patti Cake$” (2017)

“Patti Cake$” (2017)



Running Time: 108 minutes

Written & Directed by: Geremy Jasper

Featuring: Danielle Macdonald, Cathy Moriarty, Siddharth Dhananjay, McCaul Lombardi, Patrick Brana, Bridget Everett, Mamoudou Athie

Patti: [to Barb] “Act your age.” 

Barb: [to Patti] “Act your race.”

Firstly, it has to be said upfront that this debut film by music video director Geremy Jasper is not original, that is to say the plot is not, however the success as well as enjoyment of this movie is not to be found there, look closer and you are witness to a movie that is about the truth of the characters that have been created they are original as well as heart felt with plenty of emotion to push through the plot. This is a film where the plot exists to solely illustrate some fine acting, original musical performances as well as the strong relationships that exist between family as well as friends. These relationships occur when people are not only color blind but love each other for reasons that only they can explain, where looks, economics and politics are able to transcend location in the world we all live in, acceptance is central to “Patti Cake$” (2017).

Of course a movie about a budding white MC in a run down part of the US might sound familiar to many, in fact the fingerprints of the Curtis Hanson directed “8 Mile” (2002) is all over “Patti Cake$” (2017) on a superficial level. The bigotry that exists within “Patti Cake$” goes so deep that at times you wonder if there will be any redemption for the main character at all – but what kind of movie would this be if if ended on hopelessness, but in fact the ending is low key much like the entire low budget movie itself, there lies its originality as well as the emotion that is underpinned by the main character herself.

The movie concerns Patricia “Dumbo” Dombrowski is an overweight white girl from Bergen County, New Jersey, who seeks fame and fortune as a rapper. She faces several obstacles including discouragement from some people close to her as well as encouragement from others. This of course is just an outline as anything other than this may spoil the surprises that are on offer in this movie so do yourself a favor and watch this now.

This is definitely a movie about journeys; the main journey is of course Patti herself who moves through the story like a force, with the inherent ability to push her way through the prejudices of others as well as the innumerable obstacles that come up. But there are major secondary characters that evolve throughout the movie such as Barb, Patti’s long suffering mother who battles her own self worth, the rising star of her daughter, an alcohol problem as well as many other issues; Nana, Barb’s mother who has health issues but is right by Patti’s side even in the closing moments, finally there are Patti’s closest allies, Basterd and Jheri, two of the brightest lights in this movie, who do what you expect but like Patti have unfulfilled dreams that at least start to happen, in an original way.

Of course this movie could not be the success it is without the incredible actors, which for the most part are all budding talents. The cast led by Danielle Macdonald who is a relative newcomer leads in a way that shows she has made choices for her character that are inherent to “Patti Cake$” success. There are a range of emotions that Macdonald not only has to go through, but bring to life believably onscreen so that we are on board with her on the journey. It would have been easy for the actor to fall back on her physicality alone, but she does not take the easy way out, this shows as she develops a fully realized three dimensional persona. The other actor that brings her A game is the similarly talented Bridget Everett who shows the ferocious actress she is capable of being, but it is her voice that brings the spark of hope, particularly in the musical ending that was touching in a non manipulative way. The cast is rounded out with Siddharth Dhananjay and Mamoudou Athie, newcomers who aid Macdonald without overpowering her performance at all, which means they know how to support her in all the right ways. Lastly of note is the great Cathy Moriarty who while not appearing for the entire film lends her star power and talent to hook the audience in the first act, reminding me of the fantastic Anne Ramsey (“Throw Momma from the Train”(1987)) in her limited time onscreen.

As with many first time writer/directors Geremy Jasper has mined a story that he knows extremely well, as a prolific director of music videos he has been able to channel this knowledge into a movie that, while it sticks to some well worn tropes, is able to shine with its deviation into originality using original characters to make some subtle points about not only the music business but society in general. The fact that the protagonist is a young white girl who is overweight is so refreshing that it really does illustrate the shortcomings of not only men but the larger society in general. When people view Patti (those that do not know her) all they see is a fat white girl with no talent, but of course everyone in this movie is proved wrong in all of their short sightedness, most of all her Mother who is seemingly blind to Patti’s talents – this is because of age as well as her own societal prejudices. One of the strongest messages of “Patti Cake$” is that you should never judge a book by its cover, which is true of almost every single character in this movie – they all bely there looks with talents that surpass almost everyone else they come across. “Patti Cake$” is also a reflection of what society wants you to think, that is people who do not fit into boxes either do not matter or are not worth worrying about. This of course is a sentiment that exists in US politics at the moment, showing no signs of improving. What “Patti Cake$” does is to shine a light as well as physically show that we all matter, that what we do is to fight everyday for a reason to live – Patti is someone who never quits, no matter what happens – she is her own person no matter what pain she must go through to prove that – something we could all learn to do at least once in our lives.

One of the major aspects of the movie is of course the music, which was written by writer/director Geremy Jasper and is as vital as anything else that appears within the movie. Not only does the music fit in with the characters that have been created but you can easily imagine them creating these songs, ‘Pbnj’ has to the crowning glory of the soundtrack with an appearance by Nana, just fantastic as well as being completely in tune with the movie. You just need to look at the song titles to see that Jasper has a sense of humor that actually goes along with hip-hop in a big way as well as suiting each scene that music appears in.

This is a great movie to watch as an antidote to the usual big screen fare that graces the screens of multi screen cinemas, as well as being a very good debut from the writer/director/composer that is as entertaining as it is a commentary on being unique in a society that asks for homogeneity – it is also a watch for the family especially for those that feel out of step – it says it is ok to be unique as well as accepting of others.

Song List:

1. Patti $Ea$On
2. Mylifesfuckinawesome
3. Pbnj
4. Godfather (O-Z)
5. Thick N’ Thin
6. Punch the Sky (Goon Squad)
7. Wake Up Sheep! (Basterd)
8. Hunger Gamez
9. I’m Not Gonna Be Her
10. Tuff Love (Barb Wire)
11. Killa P!
12. Ruler – Kirk Knight
13. Trapped (feat. Emily Forsythe)
14. Comma Sutra
15. Tuff Love (Finale)
16. Hail Zeazur (O-Z)
17. Jersey D’evilz


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