Review: Patti Cake$
I love Black people. I love hip-hop. Pretty sure this movie hates both. Buckle in for an hour and a half of cultural appropriation coupled with a vacuous proximity to the Black community. Yes, at least one character confronts the movie’s central figure as a “culture vulture,” but the film itself does not seem to think so. It even treats this moment of confrontation as if the confronter is in the wrong. It is so devoid of anything approaching an acknowledgement of what it is trampling on that I can only assume ignorance on the filmmakers’ part. Ignorance of historical movie tropes, ignorance of the racial realities of hip-hop and ignorance of the actual culture it is borne out of. This isn’t 8 Mile, Eminem’s semi-biographical tale of his rap battle origin story on the streets of Detroit. This is an ill-fated attempt to replicate some of those feelings without any of the groundwork necessary to make those feelings land.
Patti Dumbrowski (played by Danielle Macdonald) fashions herself a rapper. As an overweight young white woman with a South Asian pharmacist as a side-kick, Jheri (played by Siddharth Dhananjay), this seems like an unlikely picture. But she does have lyrical abilities that attract attention once people give her a chance. She spends her days waiting tables and bartending, trying to pay her grandmother’s medical bills, and spends her free time trying to get a rap career off the ground. We follow she and Jheri as they book basement studio time and play strip clubs looking for any break they can get.
Patti’s mother, Barb (played by Bridget Everett), was a singer in her day and has been trying to recover that magic in a town that’s been left behind. Patti tries to prove to her that her rap ambitions are legitimate and that she has real talent. When Patti meets Bob (played by Mamadou Athie), a young Black man who keeps to himself and is into the alternative scene, she and Jheri team up with him to try to use their collective talents to get discovered.
What is the opposite of woke? Mayonnaise? This is mayonnaise. A pale, bland option that makes everything worse because it is relying on fat content and not flavor. The film never seems in touch with its subjects, so everything turns into a cartoon reduction lacking characterization and, you know, the stuff that makes movies interesting. Instead, we get Magic Negro after Magic Negro. Whether it is hip-hop legend MC Lyte as DJ French Tips, or Patti’s eventual love interest, Bob. The film is only interested in these characters for how they can advance Patti. If you make a movie about hip-hop, and don’t have a more than puddle deep exploration of at least one of the Black faces on the screen, you’re doing it wrong.
Couple that lack of interest in Black narratives with the “performing Blackness” throughout and this movie is deserving of every ounce of opprobrium it is receiving here. Whether it is Jheri’s du-rag or the young Jewish kids miming ‘making it rain’ at a bar-mitzvah, the film includes these things with seemingly no awareness of how it is coming across. And were this a tongue and cheek presentation like something from the Lonely Island crew, I might be able to stomach it. But it’s not. It is a totally unreflective reduction of hip-hop as an art form to only the rhyming and caricature elements as if that is the entire picture. If there was even one Black producer, writer, director’s assistant, etc. involved, they probably would have let them know this was trash. The only bright spot is Danielle Macdonald herself, who really does have talent; it’s just wasted here.
If you like our content, please SHARE using the buttons below and SIGN UP for our monthly newsletter to stay up to date on the latest!