Review: Patti Cake$

Score: B+

Director: Geremy Jasper

Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rated: R

Imagine if you will a movie that's a cross between 8 Mile and Paterson, but starring Rebel Wilson's Fat Amy character from Pitch Perfect, and you'd have a pretty clear picture of what's in store with Patti Cake$, one of the biggest hits out of this year's Sundance Film Festival. (It's hitting several other fests before its wide release this summer.)

While the framework of the story – working class person tries to make it as successful musician/athlete/gambler/what-have-you – isn't the least bit original, the character of Patti is. Played with lightning-quick wit and serious flow by relative newcomer Danielle Macdonald, Patti (aka Killa P) is thick-skinned to mask the pain inflicted on her by others and her situation. Rarely has a film this crowd-pleasing depicted its characters so close to the edge of full-on poverty.

She and her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) spend what little time they're not at their dead-end jobs crafting rhymes and talking about their dreams of getting out of their New Jersey hell-hole. But they can't take the leap until they find the right producer, which takes the unlikely form of a drifter who prefers the ominous moniker Basterd the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie). He wears all black and lives in a cabin in the woods, but all that darkness is just a cover for his big heart and big talent.

A recurring theme of Patti Cake$ is the crushing reality that a combination of ambition and talent isn't always enough to make a living off your passion. Patti's mom Barb (played with a wounded harshness by comedian Bridget Everett) also had dreams of making it as a musician before she got pregnant. She now spends her nights crooning in karaoke bars that either end with her going home with a random guy or puking her guts out in the bathroom.

Patti Cake$ has ample opportunity to go off the rails with tonal inconsistency, so it's a minor miracle that it finds just the right balance in every scene. Where it falters just a bit is in its length. It could have easily lost a good 20 minutes, and taken with it some clichés (including the overdone "freaking out in a parked car and hitting the steering wheel in frustration" bit).

Still, this is one of the most entertaining movies you'll see all year, with just the right amount of emotional heft to make it memorable. And keep your eye on Danielle Macdonald. She's going to be a massive star, no matter what happens to Patti.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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