Patti Cake$ is an entertaining if flawed indie outing from writer/director Geremy Jasper. It follows the fortunes of overweight, white female rapper wannabe Patti Dombrowski (the excellent Danielle Macdonald). Her determination is undermined at every turn by those in her downtrodden hometown in New Jersey, including her divorced, alcoholic mother (Bridget Everett), herself bitter at the way her own career as a rock/metal star failed to happen due to teenage pregnancy.
Despite such hard knocks, Patti is encouraged by Indian best friend Jehri (Siddharth Dhananjay), and later a black, Sex Pistol-inspired punk rock wannabe who calls himself “Basterd the Antichrist” (Mamoudou Athie). For reasons too convoluted to explain, the three of them, along with Patti’s grandmother Nana (Cathy Moriarty), form a multi-racial rap group.
It’s well acted and directed, intermittently amusing and touching. However certain scenes feel a bit forced, such as fantasy sequences where Patti is enraptured by the godlike presence of her idol rap star OZ. Despite its rather determined offbeat quirkiness, Patti Cake$ is actually quite a conventional narrative that doesn’t really warrant the hand-wringing it has induced in certain politically correct corners over “cultural appropriation” (a particularly annoying current axe-grind for the professionally offended). Nor does it quite warrant the praise that has been heaped on it by those who view it as breaking down social, racial or gender barriers, even though I admit there is a certain amount of subversion in the way it occasionally exposes the misogyny inherent in a lot of rap culture (particularly in an early, ultimately shocking scene, involving a street rap contest).
To be honest, Patti Cake$ is best viewed and enjoyed as a straightforward, agreeably heartwarming underdog tale, albeit one that contains a plethora of bad language and sexual references. I enjoyed it mostly for Macdonald’s winning performance, and for that reason alone the film is worth seeing.