Review by James Cole Clay at SXSW
Patti Cake$ was created in the Sundance director’s lab, which takes promising scripts and shepherds them into full-length features. First-time director Geremy Jasper made a film with texture, well-thought-out performances from a troubled mother/daughter and genuinely good music, but this cake crumbles under formulaic feel-good pressures.
Patti (Danielle MacDonald) is lower-middle class and works part-time as a bartender whose family has fallen under financial turmoil since her Nana (a winning Cathy Moriarty) has fallen ill. Patti is scraping every dollar while her mother Barb (Bridgette Everett), a former songstress, lives the night life trying to relive her glory days. But what the world doesn’t know is Patti is an incredible rapper. She struggles for people to take her craft seriously as she makes it in the rap game.
The cast is excellent, from the aforementioned leads to the supporting players — notably Siddarth Dhanajay. They find a push and pull chemistry that shows the heartbreak and hiccups of living life on the edge of poverty. MacDonald has more talent in her pinky than some of the performances we saw here at this festival as the film is anchored by her emotional arc.
Jasper shows life on the dingy streets of New Jersey quite well, as the landscape feels like the ghost of dream’s past. He knows how to develop his characters in a compelling manner, but relies too heavily on genre tropes and ends his film too neat and tidy for the real world. Ultimately. Patti Cake$ is still a quality indie film that has a bit of nuance and a solid central performance.