Patti Cake$ Challenges the Solo Underdog Story

I am not writing this post because this movie is about an overweight white girl beating the odds. We all struggle with our outward appearance at one point or another; we all are the underdog in our own story. I am writing this review because I left the theater feeling uplifted, smiling, and knowing why I take a chance on going to the movies these days.

Patti Cake$ depicts the aspirational rise of Patti and her rap group PBNJ. She is faced with obstacles defined by her weight, skin tone, and dysfunctional, financial burdening home life. Throughout the film we watch Patti’s talent emerge as her confidence is challenged, but also justified by the relationships that continue to believe in her ability.

Patti Cake$, written and directed by Geremy Jasper, is truly a passion project. I had the pleasure of attending a screening followed by a Q&A with the director, producers, and two members the cast. Jasper grew up in New Jersey, where the film takes place. As kid he wrote music about the need to escape his hometown. When presented the opportunity to make a feature film, Jasper made what he knew; sourcing inspiration from strong female figures in his life and his love for music.

Stylistically it dances between subtle and fantastical, as we are transported from the bleak world of Jersey to the bright lush dreams Patti escapes to. The editing keeps the pace fun and enjoyable, while painful at the appropriate times. Technically it is a successful, but emotionally it is beautiful. The relationship between each character is so defined and heartfelt. Nothing is static or unbelievable.This is what makes Patti Cake$ one of the most genuine movie experiences I have had in awhile.

In most films, I find there is always at least character whose role in the storyline is far-fetched or disconnected. For instance, we have seen the alcoholic parent role played out several times. However, Bridget Everett’s performance strikes a different sadness towards this stereotype. Her relationship with her daughter Patti is rooted in their need to escape their own realities, to overcome their own obstacles. Hostility arises as each other represents a mirror of themselves that they struggle to face.

The relationships that hit the most beautiful note for me were her friends  and grandmother, brilliantly played by Siddarth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, and Cathy Moriarty respectively. Though she may not have a big support system, the one she does have is strong. Patti’s strength does not derive from herself solely, but also comes the strength of who she surrounds herself with. Too often I think we see movies where the protagonist needs to find herself only from within to beat the odds. Sometimes this is an uplifting concept, but other times I feel as though it puts too much pressure on the individual. Furthermore, it depicts a life of independence and fear of dependence. But what we need to realize is it is our human nature to connect with others. Patti Cake$ reminds us that connections with others is a source of strength to fight the obstacles we face, rather than seeing the our situations as us-against-the-world.

This is why I insist this film is not how it may seemed pitched; the outward appearance of an overweight white girl trying to be a rapper, a typical underdog story. It is about a person’s desire to find her place through her passion and when that is challenged, learns that the most important thing is to have people around to speak the truth. Their faith turns into her faith and her desire to prove them right, as well as her desire to prove the haters wrong.

I spent the following days listening to the soundtrack, walking around my neighborhood, and feeling a bit badass. And the truth I believe is that Patti Cake$ is brilliant and deserves all that she inspires us to be.

9 out of 10 stars with a metaphorical mic drop.

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