When PATTI CAKE$ is good, it’s very, very good. But with a few welcome changes, it might have been great.
For starters, there was no need to lip sync battle rapping. Oh, the lip syncing would have been acceptable, but it looks really fake. In addition, director Geremy Jasper films most of the action a shade too close, sometimes far too close, creating a sense of intimacy that would have been much better expressed through its characters.
But, oh, these characters. Lead actress Danielle Macdonald is a revelation as Patricia Dombrowski, aka Killa P, aka PATTI CAKE$. Macdonald probably won’t find a role like this one in which she is so raw and fresh-faced. Cathy Moriarty steals every scene she is in as Patricia’s Nana and her mother, played by Bridget Everett is also a standout, (and her singing voice is on point). Her friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), a mild-mannered pharmacist by day, reveals himself to be a rap up n’ comer at night. The real star on the rise is Mamoudou Athie, (soon to be seen in Brie Larson’s Unicorn Store) as the bizarre Basterd, who perhaps lives on the outskirts of a cemetery and sports one green eye.
The plot is essentially about Patricia’s attempt to get out of her one horse town in New Jersey, through battle rapping. She also finds time to be a bartender in the world’s saddest Karaoke Bar, and attempts to move up in her career through subbing for a two-bit catering company, (run by Orange is the New Black‘s Nick Sandow). The directing is shaky, (quite literally), but the story and acting will keep you rooting for PATTI CAKE$. Jasper does redeem himself as an incredible writer of most of the raps in the movie, and the flow is memorable. In fact, the PBNJ song is still stuck in our head. Like its main character, the movie was at its best when it was true to itself.