Patti Cake$ (4 stars)

Patti Cake$

Geremy Jasper's entertaining and empowering debut focuses on a female rapper

This big-hearted, flavoursome yarn from first-time filmmaker Geremy Jasper unfolds against a backdrop of blistering beats and raucous rhymes. Yet the brash posturing of its fantasy sequences and the fierce cusses of its rap battles make room for a more subtle brand of self-discovery.

23-year-old New Jerseyite Patti (Danielle Macdonald) dreams of rap superstardom as alter-ego Killa P but, for now, she's stuck in the doldrums. Cruelly dubbed 'Dumbo' since high school, she's a grafter working two jobs to pay off the medical bills of her beloved Nana (Raging Bull's Cathy Moriarty, scene-stealing and cursing with aplomb). Patti receives little thanks for her efforts from her boozy, attention-seeking mother Barb (Bridget Everett), a nearly-was rock-balladeer who blames her daughter for her aborted music career.

That Australian actress Macdonald is such an understated delight during the dramatic sequences makes her gusto during the musical numbers especially potent. Everett, too, wails convincingly and has a certain charisma but some of her domestic scenes feel a little stiff. More successful is the dynamic between Patti and her bestie (Siddharth Dhananjay) who dresses like a tough guy but whose unshakable bouncy positivity makes him Patti's own personal Tigger, while the tenderness of the romance that flourishes between Patti and a forest-dwelling metalhead called Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) adds a surprisingly sweet note.

Precious is an obvious precursor, with its plus-sized, outsider lead, grim reality and shared tendency for escapist interludes, but Patti Cake$ largely avoids falling into its trap of sentimentality. Although flirting with fairytale, it calls out the aggressive, identikit masculinity of the amateur rap scene in a way that's authentic and affecting. If Patti is really up against it as a Caucasian woman, even her more sensitive male companions struggle to fit in.

Patti Cake$ generates more than enough goodwill with its depiction of endearing misfits to earn its shamelessly euphoric conclusion. As Patti spits out her lyrics – lewd, incendiary and eventually empowering – writer-director Jasper announces his own arrival with a great deal of swagger. His debut shows how it's easy to lose sight of your dreams when life delivers body blows, but ultimately Patti's journey is a joyous one as she learns to speak her truth.

General release from Fri 1 Sep.

Patti Cake$

  • 4 stars
  • 2017
  • US
  • 1h 48min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Geremy Jasper
  • Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Cathy Moriarty
  • UK release: 1 September 2017

Patti (Macdonald) is a 23 year old New Jerseyite who dreams of rap stardom but who works two jobs to pay the medical bills of her beloved Nana (Moriarty). Jasper’s debut film is a swaggering, big-hearted, joyous and unsentimental yarn; Macdonald is outstanding and Moriarty is a deft scene-stealer.