We have all seen the Hollywood movies about the against-all-odds dreamer who has crazy talent, and if she just believes enough, she gets her lucky break and catches that rainbow to stardom.
But what about rest of us? The people who have talent, just not enough to make the big leagues? The regular people who believed in something just as much as Jennifer Beals in “Flashdance,” but didn't have a rich boyfriend with connections at the ballet school? Those of us who end up playing in corner-bar cover bands instead of arenas, the almost-there’s who maybe had a brush with greatness, but never quite made it?
“Patti Cake$” is their story. Our story. And it's told heartbreakingly, hilariously well.
Australian actress Danielle Macdonald disappears into her character as Patti Dumbrowski, or “Dumbo” as the cruel neighborhood kids call her. Patti is obsessed with becoming a rap star. She calls herself “Killa P,” and raps to her reflection in the mirror. She shares a filthy apartment with her alcoholic mother in a New Jersey slum, and rolls around town in a beat-up maroon Fleetwood with “PATTIWGN” vanity plates. Her frizzy strawberry blonde hair and largess tell us she is definitely not one of the cool kids.
Her determination is so blind that it literally gets her a punch in the face, because “Patti Cake$” is a story about losers getting high on toxic hope. Her best friend, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), has the same pipe dream, and they bang out rhymes and beats on the hood of her Fleetwood before her shift at the local dive bar.
Patti’s mother (a vivid Bridget Everett) had a dream of becoming a rock singer, and now she gets drunk and wails Heart songs at karaoke before she vomits in the bar bathroom where Patti works.
Patti’s dying grandmother, played brilliantly by an almost unrecognizable Cathy Moriarty, gives her some due North on the emotional stability compass. But for the most part Patti is a lost soul, trying to fill the void where love is supposed to be with applause and acceptance for her rap music.
Director/writer Geremy Jasper uses clever and creative ways to put us inside Patti’s nutty mind, and the film has the right light touch, with a lot of funny moments; otherwise it would be terribly depressing. Macdonald’s tough turn as Patti is also skillfully vulnerable. Sometimes you think Patti gets what she deserves; other times you want Patti to win so badly it hurts.
For we losers who may have an old dream or two buried behind the wood shed, Patti’s journey shows us that growing up doesn’t mean giving up. It just means reality is going to punch you in the face now and then, but you have to shake it off and keep on keeping on.
3 stars (out of 4)
A young New Jersey woman dreams of becoming a rap star and breaking out of her miserable life, in spite of overwhelming odds against her. 108 minutes. Rated R for profanity, drug use, brief nudity and mature themes. Showing at the Dipson Amherst.