One of the year’s most delightful surprises is now available to own on Blu-ray and DVD.
Patti Cake$ is one of those rare films that shines despite its rote familiarity. Its tale of dreaming large in the face of a crippling reality is all too recognizable, and its narrative is about as A to B as it gets, but never mind all that. This is a film with a bright heart, propelled by a moving script and outstanding performances that elevate its underdog narrative into something greater than the sum of its parts.
Despite offering little that you haven’t seen in, say, Rocky or 8 Mile (the distinction between the sports underdog and the hip hop underdog is blurrier than it might first appear), Patti Cake$ offers a heartfelt take on the concept of the come up. It’s Cinderella with a thumping beat, riding a chariot that goes as far as a dream will allow.
The titular Patti (Danielle Macdonald) is an aspiring rapper from little town New Jersey. Stuck in a town too small to contain her dreams, she hustles between catering jobs, shifts at the bar, and writing rhymes with her friend and partner, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). Stuck between her dreams and her reality, Patti navigates her working class existence seeking the opportunity to make good on her desire for glory and fame in the rap world.
There’s no denying that writer/director Geremy Jasper has distinguished himself as a singular voice in indie cinema with this, his first effort. Beyond the rap game—a subject on which Jasper is well versed—Patti Cake$ takes a unique look at life in the modern suburban, working class existence. His script is alive with the realities of the struggle to survive, as Patti and her family work hard to keep bills paid and food on the table.
As a character study, Patti Cake$ paints an unflinching picture of New Jersey life. This is essentially a story of intergenerational struggles; Patti’s mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), disdains Patti for following her dreams, regretful of the fact that she herself let similar dreams die for the sake of her blue collar existence decades ago. Add to the mix the wheelchair bound Nana (Cathy Moriarty), who supports Patti’s dream in a way she never supported Barb, and you’ve got a great recipe for family strife that’s rife with nuance and subtext.
What’s also great is how alive and actualized each character is. Jasper’s visual flair comes from his history of directing music videos for the likes of Florence + the Machine and Selena Gomez, but his talent for screenwriting is undeniable. He allows his narrative to flow effortlessly, building from his characters (who were clearly all written from a place of love and respect). The women of Patti Cake$ are given individuality and agency, with each portraying their own kind of strength and offering a clear linear and generational progression full of contrast and compliments.
This alone makes Patti Cake$ a worthy addition to your home collection, but the special features allow for a deeper dive into the film. Jasper offers an enlightening feature length commentary that goes into his filmmaking and his history and which gives insight into his creative process. It would have been nice if Macdonald could have joined him, but as a solo commentator it serves its purpose. So, too, with the behind the scenes feature, A Slice of Cake$, which goes on location in New Jersey to explore the creative processes of the film.
There, Macdonald speaks quite a bit on bringing Patti to live. The actress herself hails from Australia, though you wouldn’t know that from her dead-on portrayal of New Jersey swagger. A Slice of Cake$ allows her to discuss the work she put into her role, which not only included mastering the Jersey accent, but learning how to rap as well. Her willingness and ability to accomplish these feats speaks to Jasper’s abilities as a director, who first and foremost must inspire his cast and crew.
Even though Patti Cake$ traverses well-trod territory, narratively, it’s a film filled with passion and soul. This is one to at least rent, if not buy, if you missed it during its theatrical run. Even if you did catch it in theaters, it’s well worth a revisit with fresh eyes.
Patti Cake$ is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.