By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)

It is a story as old as time.  A young aspiring artist, struggling to survive in poverty, has the tenacity, the skills, and the passion to use that talent to rise above the situation.   Hip hop has had plenty of heroes that fits this description perfectly.  Previous films like Hustle & Flow and 8 Mile have served as fictional depictions of these real stories and a new film hopes to join these predecessors and earn the same respect and acclaim that they have.  Patti Cake$ is a little different though.  The film offers a woman’s perspective to the hip hop art and game and shows how difficult it is for female to earn respect in a male dominated business and hood.

Danielle McDonald stars as Patti Dombrowski, a young dreamer with aspirations to take the rap world by storm.  These are not easy dreams to achieve, though, as Patti must work multiple jobs to support herself, her alcoholic mother Barb (Bridgette Everett), and her ailing grandmother Nana (Cathy Moriarty).  When not working, Patti Cake$, aka Killer P, is working on her lyrics, crafting her flow and planning her next moves with her best friend and creative partner Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay).  Still, with little encouragement from her mother and from members of her neighborhood community, who try to belittle her by calling her “Dumbo,”  Patti Cake$ will have to work extra hard to make her dreams come true.

Writer/director Geremy Jasper makes his feature film debut with this triumphant audience charmer which will have its audiences rapping along with the lyrics and leaving the theater with smiles on their faces.  The story’s beats may be quite similar to Hustle & Flow and 8 Mile, but this movie has enough wit and heart of its own to set it apart from the others.  It also has a protagonist who seems to have a more challenging struggle to achieve success and earn respect because she is easily dismissed as an overweight loser with no skills and lofty dreams.  Given that the hip hop world can be misogynistic, and not as friendly toward female artists, makes the struggle an even bigger challenge.

Jasper does exceptional work in developing his characters realistically with both lovable qualities and unlikable flaws.  Patti is lovable for her brash and confident approach, but sometimes her attitude gets her into trouble.  I also like how Jasper juxtaposes Patti’s life and dreams with her mother’s current situation when she had a similar past when she was younger.  I was truly impressed with both Danielle McDonald and Bridgette Everett who offer stupendous performances in these roles.

McDonald combines a swaggering bravado and a genuine delicacy for an extraordinary turn that deserves applause and recognition.  Everett offers a turn that can be rather hateful, but also poignant and beautiful.  She also deserves high praise and recognition for this role and is hopefully not forgotten at the end of the year.  Cathy Moriarty is delightfully feisty and lovingly supportive as Nana, Patti’s grandmother.  Siddharth Dhanajay impresses as the energetic and piquant Jheri and Mamadou Athie delivers a powerful and haunting performance as Basterd, an enigmatic and talented street artist who reluctantly joins Patti and Jheri to produce their first CD.  It is an absolute joy to watch Patti and her crew work their magic on the screen.

And even though this movie does tread all-too-familiar territory, it really won my heart, perhaps even more so than its predecessors.  In Patti, I found her character more relatable and her challenges more compelling.  Geremy Jasper also proves himself as a great director and solid storyteller and I certainly look forward to see what he does next.  I highly recommend Patti Cake$ for not just fans of hip hop, but those who love a great Cinderella story.

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