Patti Cake$ reinvents the archetypal rags to riches fairy tale, reflecting a public hunger for films with more diverse casting and uniquely complex characters. Patti (aka Patti Cake$, aka Killer P, aka numerous other stage names she fantasises about having), played by Danielle Macdonald, is a 23-year-old woman navigating her way through mundane part-time jobs, small-minded bullies and her jealous alcoholic mother (Bridget Everett).
On paper, it reads like a modern Cinderella story, but this is a truly contemporary reflection of what it feels like to be the underdog. Stories that track the journey towards a goal and the obstacles faced along the way are as old as time, but Patti Cake$ gives a fresh angle, providing an honest look into life and all its quirks. It is subtly unpredictable and allows the audience to become so invested in the characters that certain scenes rack up nail-biting tension. When Patti performs, whether in an impromptu rap battle in the streets or a formative on-stage gig, the audience is rooting for her, but feeling her nerves too.
The buzz surrounding the release of Patti Cake$ is likely down to the demand for films with strong female protagonists who defy stereotypes. We want characters with more complexity, who do not fit conventional beauty standards and break free from the thin, white movie star mould. The rap group that Patti forms represents the beauty in a group of misfits coming together. PBNJ is comprised of: Patti, bullied for being overweight and “white trash”; Bastard (Mamoudou Athie), a self-proclaimed antichrist; Nana (Cathy Moriarty), Patti’s chain-smoking grandmother; and Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), Patti’s kooky, charismatic best friend and hype man.
Dream sequences intersect the film, laying bare the stark juxtaposition of Patti’s dreams and her suburban trappings. Against the odds, these dreams keep alive with a fiery optimism, consolidated by Patti’s morning routine in which she calls herself a “boss bitch” and kisses her reflection. The film has a Baz Luhrmann quality to it, at times inhabiting an Americana neon dream world, though the cinematography never overshadows the humanity of the story.
The soundtrack is fantastic, with Patti’s infectiously catchy lines convincing the audience of her talent. Whether you are a fan of rap music or not, you will come away with verses from the film stuck in your head. The message is hidden in the music. Patti Cake$ is about finding your voice and making it heard, but more than that it is a triumphant ode to daydreams, friendship and being a boss bitch.