The lovable Sundance hit comedy Patti Cake$ proves John Waters’ law that “hating fat people is the last acceptable prejudice.” It’s a relatively wise feel-gooder. The more extravagant claims made for this comedy include “authenticity.” Diverting as it is, it’s shaped in the familiar Sundancian fashion—uplifting with a happy ending. Let’s put it plainly—as was once said of the homogenized tons o’ fun rap group the Fat Boys, at times, Patti Cake$ has the street authority of a “Don’t Walk” sign.
It’s about unlikely stardom, sought by the obese, 23-year-old Patti Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald). She gets her multi-generational extended family together into the oddest group since the Bremen Town Musicians. She stays with grandma (the ever-ready Cathy Moriarty), a gravel-voiced wheelchair-rider, ready to join her late husband in the grave. Her semi-estranged mom (the terrific Bridget Everett of Lady Dynamite) is, like almost every comedienne before her, tremendous when she plays a bitter dream-crusher. The big woman reveals her own embarrassing yearnings via a karaoke performance of “These Dreams” by Heart.
There’s someone who recognizes Patti’s star qualities: Her pal and No. 1 fan Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay). If there’s such a thing as a ‘friend zone,’ such as unappealing guys complain about, there’s also a sidekick zone. Hareesh never really emerges from it.
The fairy tale has a rough background—suburban Jersey at its skeeviest. When the characters want anything from powerful marijuana to a credible recording studio, they need to drive to Newark for it. Odd how things out in Jersey look cheaper when they try to get fancier.
We can admire Patti’s dreams. We finally see her serious chops when she does a battle rap outside of a gas station. She holds her own against a dickwielding rapper, a neighborhood muscle-kid (McCaul Lombardi).
This is a sweet movie, but it’ll gall viewers who believe that fighting the viciousness of the world with troubling art is a duty—it’s not just a stage you get over, as if you were a rebellious kid who finally learned to clean up and be nice.