PATTI CAKE$ — Review by Cate Marquis

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PATTI CAKE$ is a winning underdog tale, about an overweight 23-year-old white woman whose youthful dreams of being a rapper are fading while she struggling to get by in lower working class New Jersey. Patti (Australian actress Danielle Macdonald) lives with, and takes care of, her hard-drinking, sometimes abusive mother (Bridget Everett) and wheelchair-bound Nana (Cathy Moriarty) in a cramped, squalid apartment. Patti supports them all working as bartender in a local dive bar. and her only escape is rapping and hanging-out with her only friend, fellow rapper Raneesh (Siddharth Dhananjay). She calls him Jheri and he calls her Killa P., but daily Patti stoically endures the neighborhood bullies who call her Dumbo. Together with a shy, angry black punk rocker (Mamoudou Athie ), Patti takes a last shot at her dream. Continue reading…

In the 1930s, many Hollywood films focused on a “forgotten man” at the bottom of the Depression-era economic barrel, who nonetheless rises to the top through determination and talent. PATTI CAKE$ hearkens back to that Capra-esque underdog theme of the economically-excluded with a dream, but updates it to contemporary New Jersey, where an unlikely heroine – a poor, overweight, white 23-year-old woman – dreams of being a hip hop star.

PATTI CAKE$ feels more fresh and original than the synopsis suggests, thanks in part to Macdonald’s lead performance but also a strong supporting cast and a good script. The film oozes authenticity, some of which comes from the semi-autobiographical elements that director/writer Geremy Jasper included in her first feature film. On some levels, this is a classic American underdog tale but PATTI CAKE$ makes that familiar theme into an entirely contemporary world, painting a portrait of the hard life at lower end of the economic scale, of a person left out of the modern global economy but who nonetheless has dreams, talent and indomitable spirit. Other contemporary films have tried capture this slice of forgotten American society but few have done it as well, in as personal and individual a way, as PATTI CAKE$.

Even those who are not hip hop fans will be taken with the energy and charisma Macdonald brings to her rapping. Hip hop fans will find much to like, and the film is packed with strong musical numbers, both Patti’s raps and blues belted-out by Patti’s mother, a rock and blues singer whose once-promising career never took off.

PATTI CAKE$ combines the crowd-pleasing bones of the classic underdog story with a moving family drama, led by a winning performance by the unexpected star power of Danielle Macdonald.

EDITOR’S NOTE: PATTI CAKE$ is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week (#MOTW) for August 11-18, 2017

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Cate Marquis

Cate Marquis is a film critic and historian based in the St. Louis, Missouri area. Marquis reviews film for the St. Louis Jewish Light weekly newspaper and Playback: stl website, as well as other publications. The daughter of artist Paul Marquis, she was introduced to classic and silent films by her father, as well as art and theater. Besides reviewing films, she lectures on film history, particularly the silent film era, has served on the board of the Meramec Classic Film Festival and is a long-time collaborator with the St. Louis International Film Festival, serving on various juries.