Blu-ray Review: Patti Cake$

By , Contributor
Let it be said upfront: Patti Cake$, the feature-film directorial debut of Geremy Jasper, is a blast of feel-good entertainment. If you don't think about it's characters' motivations too deeply, it's an effectively big-hearted crowd pleaser. Starring relative newcomer Danielle Macdonald in what should be a star-making role, Cake$ distills the gritty, ne'er-do-well-makes-good hip hop fantasy Hustle & Flow into something funny and frothy enough to approximate a downtrodden Napoleon Dynamite riff. On the negative side, writer-director Jasper retains the most contrived elements of the former while never becoming as funny as the latter. Still, the cast's verve ably carries Cake$ to its inevitable conclusion.

Macdonald plays Patti, a bartender and caterer with dreams of hitting the big time as a rapper. She idolizes hip hop mogul O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah) and whiles away her spare time imagining herself as a blinged-out MTV star. Her weight (and whiteness) make her the target of intense ridicule in her town's music community. Her hype man Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) works in a pharmacy (and isn't "street" enough to discern weed from oregano) but believes so fervently in Patti's skills that he's sure they'll be outta Jersey soon. They team up with mysterious, near-mute Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) after being suitably impressed by his blend of metal guitar and synthetic beats at an open mic night. Add in Patti's sickly grandmother (Cathy Moriarty), whose death-rattle voice proves invaluable to their new song's hook, and they form a near-farcically eccentric crew. 
 
patti cakes gheri.jpg Throughout Cake$, Jasper charts Patti's struggle to get her rhymes noticed while dealing with her workaday lifestyle in predictable manner. However it seems unclear whether he's truly positioning Patti as a burgeoning artist or, as one character derisively calls her, a "culture vulture." For what it's worth, Patti's primary motivation appears to be earning lots of money (not an unreasonable goal in and of itself, of course) yet most of the characters refer to her as an "artist" or "poet." Unfortunately, if we're to accept her alleged artistry, her personal message and vision are never made clear (although she's good at standing up defiantly to bullies). Her hero O-Z is regarded as a "false prophet"—Basterd warns against following him, though Patti smartly points out that Basterd's carefully cultivated "image" is loaded with pretension as well. 
 
patti cakes bridget everett.jpg Only Barb (Bridget Everett), Patti's mom, is not posing as someone or something she's really not. Once a promising rock singer, she's devolved in middle age into morbid obesity and untreated alcoholism. A chance encounter between Patti and an old flame of her mom's leads to Barb fronting a bar band for the first time in years. Bitter and in mild denial of her advancing years, Barb is possibly the most interesting (and honest) character in Patti Cake$. Everett deserves serious award-season consideration for her deeply felt work. The rest of Jasper's motley crew are portrayed with equal commitment (again, Macdonald is a revelation), but the writing sometimes comes up short. Character arcs aren't complete, but the whole affair is never less than boisterously entertaining.

Special features supplementing Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-ray include commentary by Geremy Jasper, a 20-minute making-of ("A Slice of Cake$"), a couple of music videos, and several promotional mini-featurettes.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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