Danielle Macdonald stars as an aspiring New Jersey rapper in this well-worn story of trying to beat the odds
Take “8 Mile” and cross it with “Hustle & Flow” and add a little bit of “Precious” and you have “Patti Cake$,” a hip-hop underdog story about finding the rhythm by following your own beat.
Danielle Macdonald stars as Patti, an aspiring rapper in New Jersey at its most desolate, who dreams of one day rocking a microphone like Nicki Minaj. She assembles a squad out of her misfit associates: there’s Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), her rapping pharmacist; Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a loner who lives in a shack in the woods; and Nana (Cathy Moriarty), her wheelchair-bound grandmother. Taking the first letters of their names, they become — wait for it — PBNJ. (The name sounds funny, yes, but so did Eminem the first time you heard it.)
They circulate a demo CD (rather than putting their stuff on Soundcloud?), and the pieces are in place for a “Rocky”-style tale of triumph. That’s not quite what happens, but “Patti Cake$” doesn’t exactly subvert expectations along the way, it just slightly diverts them.
The question you have to ask yourself in movies like this is whether the material is strong enough to stand on its own in a real world context; if not, it’s a long tumble downward. That’s where “Patti Cake$” loses some momentum. In the history of recorded music, has a performer ever gotten over by putting her grandmother in her group? It’s not a deal breaker here, but it chips away at the credibility of “Cake$.”
Macdonald, however, makes up for the shortcoming. In scenes with Patti’s mom (Bridget Everett), a down-and-out loser who never achieved her dreams of being a singer, “Patti Cake$” finds its grit, and its heart. And that’s where it shines.
Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use and a brief nude image
Running time: 108 minutes