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Movies about dreamers trying to make it big, as well as rap careers on the rise, already exist. So by that token alone, Patti Cake$ should have been dead on the vine, another proven example of "Hollywood officially running out of ideas." And yet, writer/director Geremy Jasper's story of a Jersey girl takes a story that has been told numerous times, and makes it into something totally vibrant and entertaining.
Patricia Dumbrowski (Danielle Macdonald) works hard for her family by day, and even harder for herself by night. Her big dream is to take her rap alter-ego, Killer P, to the big time, and she's not afraid to hustle her way into any gig to make it happen. With a sick grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) and an alcoholic mother (Bridget Everett) depending on her at home, life is harder than she'd like to admit. But with the right crew, and the right opportunities, she might just make it out there.
Patti Cake$ is a quintessential New Jersey film, probably the most so since Kevin Smith burst onto the scene with Clerks in the mid-90's. While plenty of other films may take place in the great state of New Jersey, this film truly feels like it exists in the more realistic parts of the home base that gave us Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. It's this authenticity that helps anchor the life of the Dumbrowski family in a more realistic realm than most stories of this variety. Though it also helps that Geremy Jasper is a product of Jersey himself, as his eye for the less familiar parts of the state is reflected in his choice of scenery.
Even better is the fact that Patti Cake$' story manages to side step a lot of the perceived pitfalls of such a narrative. Throughout the film, I found myself calling out potential notes that the film would potentially use to create drama. And yet, a lot of those moments wouldn't turn out to be used to their full, cliched effect. Instead, Jasper tells a story that is still rife with conflict, but of a more organic and understandable variety. By time the film enters its third act ramp-up, I wasn't quite sure where it was going to go, but I was completely invested in the ride.
A lot of thanks should be paid to the stellar ensemble cast that Patti Cake$ has assembled, with newcomer Danielle Macdonald's Patti owning every single moment on screen. Her swagger isn't manufactured, and neither is her pain, which allows her portrayal of Patti to dance between the two extremes with the deftest of touches. It's a performance that deserves all of the attention it can get, especially this early in the awards season race, as she plays front and center to a supporting cast that matches her A-game throughout.
It's rare to find yourself truly caught up in a film, even if you're watching a picture that throws a lot at you over time. But Patti Cake$ commands the audience's attention by scaling back on the spectacle, and dialing up the characters. With the depth of personality that Patti and those around her are painted in, the environment and events surrounding them all are elevated in their execution.
While Patti Cake$ treads familiar ground, it does so with a confident stride and cinematic language of its own, much like its colorful protagonist. The film that you're introduced to, and eventually presume it will be, is superseded by a better, more uplifting film, and it's a joy to see such an A-level film make its debut at the end of a particularly mid-level summer.