Starring Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty, McCaul Lombardi
The SXSW indie breakout “Patti Cake$” begins with unflattering closeups of grilled chompers and never relinquishes the concept of ‘in your face’. Later we see our star, newcomer Danielle Macdonald, in a close-up brushing her teeth, and shots of the spit she produces. Writer/director Geremy Jasper, who did a Selena Gomez music video one time, makes his feature film debut with a film that’s difficult to describe. “Patti Cake$” isn’t an easy sell, with no marketable faces and a trashy concept that will be a turn off for the average viewer. 90’s B-list actress Cathy Moriarty (“Casper”) kicks the film into a much needed new gear as the wheelchair bound Nana who joins in on a few rap beats.
Aspiring New Jersey slum rapper Patricia Dombrowski (Macdonald), a.k.a. Killa P, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, a.k.a. Dumbo, a.k.a. Marilyn Mansion works swing shifts at the local trash bar in an XL football jersey and high-tops with no socks. She is a 23-year-old loser with only one way out, to become a rap artist sensation and impress local producer O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). When her mother (Everett) a.k.a. bad mother, a.k.a. equally fat, a.k.a former local singer, a.k.a. desperate alcoholic asks her why she hasn’t been helping out with Nana (Moriarty) she replies, “I’m busy grinding”. What she really means is her two friends Jheri (Dhananjay) and Bastard (Athie) have formed a band called PBnJ, and are working on a record.
Macdonald feels like a star in the making.
The most important theme of the film is probably an unlikely one, but at one point of the story, Patricia learns the value of hard work. In order to pay her Nana’s medical bills, she works exhausting hours on two jobs, and this is the happiest and most ambitious we see her in the film. There isn’t one scene in the film that portrays the characters or the setting as anything but grungy. Spitting, puking, grunting and close-ups on everything. “Patti Cake$” showcases someone reaching for the stars in desperate circumstances and the screenplay puts her through so much despair that we root for her success and escape. The first and final thirds of the film drag into a slow rut, but the middle portion, where Moriarty gets her screentime, is the most enjoyable.
Macdonald feels like a star in the making, she does hold the screen on her own and keeps the viewer interested in her struggle. Patricia’s transformation in the final performance is revolutionary and quite stunning to see what the real Danielle looks like instead of her grunge “Patti Cake$” persona. Outside of Moriarty’s brief performance, the mystery surrounding Bastard is an unexpected turns out to be quite rewarding, as does the minimal performance by Mamoudou Athie. Despite a few scenes to champion, “Patti Cake$” as a whole, isn’t the rewarding experience it could be, and the subject matter is so off putting that it’s difficult to coral universal appeal needed to make this a success. At a time when South East Texas really needs a good movie, this isn’t it.
A mixture of originality and off-putting subject matter in a story that tends to drag.