There’s something about films showing the creative process of making music that almost always seems to work. From Ray to Hustle & Flow to Whiplash to Sing Street, the idea of musicians finding success because of their musical abilities is nearly irresistible.
Joining that list is Patti Cake$, a story about a young woman who has to overcome her circumstances to become a success. Patti Dombrosky (Danielle Macdonald) works a dead-end job at a New Jersey bar to help pay the medical bills of her Nana (Cathy Moriarty) and support her mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), who seems to live only on the glory of her days as a low-level rock star.
Patti has music dreams of her own, namely becoming a rap star alongside her best friend, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). But since she’s white, he’s Indian, they have a lack of funds, and her body shape has people in her neighborhood calling her “Dumbo,” the odds are stacked against them.
The outcast theme is a powerful one, with Patti and Jheri joining forces with another musician, Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), who lives even more on the fringes than they do. As a filmic device, it’s extremely effective because the highs of the story become that much higher, a necessity when the lows are really low.
Writer/director Geremy Jasper, making his feature directorial debut after creating music videos for Selena Gomez and Florence + the Machine, makes Patti, aka Killa P, come alive with personal songs about her life. Whether you like rap music is irrelevant when it comes to relating to her struggles. It's easy to feel joy when she finds just the right words to express herself.
It also helps that almost every cast member is a relatively unknown actor. Macdonald proves her star power in this role, not only owning the musical performances but also showing an ability to handle the complex emotions of the script. Dhananjay and Athie bring their characters to life alongside her.
Patti Cake$ makes you want to stand up and cheer — for the great music, the unlikely success of its characters, and for the idea that movies like this are still being made.