Patti Cakes

Chronicling a small-town underdog who dreams of fame and fortune, Patti Cakes features a tune you’ve heard before that’s never been sung quite like this.

Even if it’s set within a familiar coming-of-age framework, this gritty crowd-pleaser about a young New Jersey woman shattering perceptions and stereotypes to pursue her dreams of hip-hop stardom finds an appealing rhythm.

Patti (Danielle Macdonald) is an overweight white woman — that’s three strikes in some rap circles — who’s 23 years old yet still living with her disapproving former nightclub-singing single mother (Bridget Everett) in their fledgling blue-collar town.

While enduring nicknames such as “Dumbo” and “White Precious,” she takes out her insecurities and self-esteem issues on a different kind of music — her vicious rhymes that she shares only in impromptu rap battles and with her optimistic friend, Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), between bartending gigs.

Caught between her dream of breaking free from her downtrodden environment and resigning herself to living within it, Patti forms a makeshift band with her small group of friends and fellow social outcasts who exemplify the cultural melting pot in their setting.

Besides Hareesh, there’s a painfully shy outsider (Mamoudou Athie) with a secret stash of recording equipment, and even Patti’s depressed grandmother (Cathy Moriarty), who contributes some unlikely background vocals for a demo track the group hopes can find the right ears.

On the surface, the screenplay by rookie director Geremy Jasper feels like a female companion piece to 8 Mile, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yet the project keeps itself grounded with a wry sense of humor and appealing character dynamics that proudly and authentically embrace diversity.

More than anything, the film benefits from Macdonald’s enthusiastic performance and a feisty underdog spirit. Her character acts too naïve given that her lyrics and swagger suggest otherwise, although the Australian actress generates sympathy for Patti by exploring her inner conflict.

Sure, Patti Cakes stretches credibility — it’s not quite this easy to make it big in the real world — but sidesteps rags-to-riches clichés.

Accompanied by a feisty girl-power spirit, the film brandishes a confident style and attitude, managing broad-based appeal that transcends cultural backgrounds and musical tastes.


Rated R, 108 minutes.