Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle MacDonald), aka Killa P, aka Juicy Luciano, aka Marilyn Mansion, aka Jane Dough, aka Patti Cakes is an overweight, white, wannabe rapper who shares a house with her floozy mother (Bridget Everett) and sickly grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) in an impoverished neighborhood in Northern New Jersey. Her lyrics are sick, her delivery spirited, her flow impeccable. But, she’s fat, and she’s white, and she’s poor. She’s aka Dumbo Dombrowski.
She cleanses herself of misery and misfortune via song. There is a legitimacy to her rhymes about life for an undiscovered talent that outshines her competition. Her fiery delivery however conceals a sadness and an insecurity inside her brought on by her asshole peers and her undermining mother (who once had dreams of stardom herself). “The bigger the girl, the deeper the pain is.”
Though following a familiar coming-of-age arc, Patti Cake$ is infused with hip filmmaking techniques, unforced performances and a keen awareness of place. It just feels real. It’s messy, it’s raucous, it’s fun. It is difficult not to root for Patti Cakes, her Indian pharmacist Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and her basterd boyfriend (Mamoudou Athie). They live in poverty yet have dollar signs in their eyes. They’re given lines like, “Once the buzz spreads, we are on the highway to greener pastures baby” with nary an ounce of cynicism. The film even manages to create sympathy for Patti’s bitch of a mother. She throws the EP she created in her youth in the garbage and our hearts break a little.
Despite the grittiness of Bayonne, NJ, Patti Cake$ is a positive, hugely inspirational piece of coming-of-age cinema. It’s a story of triumph for any artist seeking recognition.