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Hip-Hop heart-warmer Patti Cake$ is stylish and sweet [MOVIE REVIEW]

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Danielle Macdonald in Patti Cake$. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight.

by Ryan Rojas/www.cinemacy.com

What if 8 Mile starred a girl? This is essentially Patti Cake$, a Cinderella story of an over-weight underdog who tries to up-end herself from a dead end life in her New Jersey hometown by following her dream of becoming a rap superstar. Premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and acquired by Fox Searchlight, the rap musical is now playing in theaters, including the Landmark and ArcLight Hollywood.

Patti Cake$ is a certain kind of wonderful– a refreshing breeze into your life that only indie cinema can offer. The movie is essentially another follow your dreams journey but is made all the better and worthwhile by its stylish, street-savviness and fresh flair. Patti Cake$ will delight and re-ignite you to be your baddest self.

Our lead hero Danielle Macdonald is a beautiful new star to fill the screen. As Patricia Dombrowski aka Patti, she smirks and stunts through the streets with her gangsta-exterior, but balances her toughness with sensitivity, flinching when she’s shamed by others over her appearance. Macdonald’s star is one that alternates between shimmering and shining, and really owns this movie.

This is the work of the film’s writer and director Geremy Jasper (a music video director who wrote all of the rap lyrics to the film). And, oh boy, do these songs kick, especially when it comes time for Patti to do her thing. These well-written moments, whether it’s a freestyle rap-off in a gas station or in the makeshift studio, give the lo-fi rap tracks a hard rock swagger of a Sleigh Bells metal meets the MC-queen authority style of Nicki Minaj. Half the reason I enjoyed Patti Cake$ so much is because the tunes transport you to this concert world. (In fact, if you want to get a flavor of the music now, the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is available to stream on Spotify. While ‘PBNJ’ may be the film’s single, ‘Hunger Gamez’ is a real fun one.)

Of course, you can’t have a party without pathos, or in this case some sort of story that fuels Patti to strive for this dream (which she takes seriously) without some real motivating forces that try to inhibit her at every turn. For each brash in-your-face moment of riled energy, there are equal balances of tender and affecting human moments. These include watching her washed-up alcoholic mother sing a karaoke tune, an intimate moment with mysterious anarchist, and being hospital-bound with her sickly but snappy grandmother. These are all instances that make Patti Cake$ more than just a fun time, but one of deeper insight and understanding.

While it ultimately follows a more conventional story arc than I thought it would, if you’re looking for a movie to shake you out of your more familiar viewing patterns, Patti Cake$ will do just that. It offers music that rocks and moments that connect. It’s a bad girl story that will re-inspire audiences of all ages to follow their dreams no matter the odds.

Patti Cake$ is rated R for language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use and a brief nude image. 108 min. Now playing at select ArcLight theaters.


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