Have you ever watched a movie where a group of friends makes music in a recording studio? (Probably yes. I definitely have.) OK pull up your memory again: did the group of friends ever consist of a diverse bunch like a white kid, a Black kid, an Indian kid, and a white grandmother in a wheelchair? And were they laying down super sick beats? (That’s right, I didn’t think so.) This scene is one of many delightful moments in Patti Cake$ that took me off guard and made me wonder, Has a movie ever made me think about that before?
Patti Cake$ at its core is a rags-to-riches story of one driven girl taking a shot at what she loves – rapping. But the real meat of the movie lies in its twists, in the unexpected emotions and the curious friendships formed along the way.
The cast is solid, the direction is colorful and bold, and our hero Patricia Dombrowski (AKA Killa P, Danielle Macdonald) is basically the talented, hardworking version of ourselves we all aspire to be. She has a right to be upset at the hand life has dealt her, but instead, she tackles each day with grit, determination, and good humor. It’s so easy to root for her – she’s flawed and has stupid moments just like us – but her sass is contagious and even in her worst moments, she’s always doing her best.
Patti Cake$ isn’t so much about music or race. I was a little worried about that at first. Because rap music has such intrinsic meaning to communities of color, I (as a white girl) have to be thoughtful when reviewing a movie about a white girl who wants to be a rapper. But once the movie started, I realized it could have been about anything: painting, dancing – didn’t matter.
What matters is the disconnect between her and her mother (Bridget Everett, Trainwreck). What matters is that Patricia is the glue holding her little New Jersey family together. She is caring for her sick grandmother (Cathy Moriarty, Raging Bull) and working to pay the bills when so many other twenty-three year olds are fresh out of college with shiny degrees, pursuing success in ways Patti can only dream about. The movie has a lot to say about generational poverty in small-town USA, about harmful body standards, misogyny, disability, and the deep power of committed friendships to keep us afloat when times seem toughest.
Final verdict? Patti Cake$ is a triumphant, joyful viewing, even in the midst of its sorrowful moments.