Here’s my question for all the parents out there, whether you’re relatively new to the game or it’s been decades since the kids were living at home with you:
Of all the recitals and talent shows and school plays and games in which your kids participated, did you ever arrive at the last minute, flinging the doors open in dramatic fashion the moment your kid was about to perform onstage or step up to the plate or take the potential game-winning shot?
I ask because that seems to happen in the movies.
This weekend alone, we have such scenes in two movies.
• In “Logan Lucky,” Channing Tatum’s divorced dad arrives at the auditorium just when it’s his daughter’s turn to sing in a talent pageant.
• And in “Patti Cake$,” Bridget Everett’s single mom enters the hall while her grown daughter is rapping in a prestigious talent showcase, and then …
Well. I’ll say no more, other than to applaud writer-director Geremy Jasper for having the creative, um, guts to embrace this familiar and potentially hackneyed scenario and to push it to a place where it could have sunk the movie.
The moment is saved and then some by Jasper’s storytelling skills, and by the major league charisma of the actors playing mother and daughter: the aforementioned Everett, stunningly good as a bitter, hard-drinking, been-around-the-block single mother convinced life is one slap to the face after another; and Danielle Macdonald in a star-making turn as the titular character, an outwardly cocky but vulnerable plus-sized wannabe rapper who dreams of attaining hip-hop stardom, against all odds.
This movie is “Hustle and Flow” and “8 Mile,” Jersey style.
Macdonald is an absolute force as the twentysomething Patricia Dombrowski, who wakes up every morning determined and upbeat, even though her life path already looks to be a series of dead ends.
Saddled with the cruel nickname “Dumbo” since junior high but defiantly calling herself Patti Cakes aka Killer P. aka White Trish aka Marilyn Mansion, the aspiring rapper Patti
lives in near-squalid conditions with her booze-soaked, dream-crushing mother Barb, and her invalid grandmother (Cathy Moriarty), aka Nana.
Patti tends bar at the local dive, where Barb shows up with depressing regularity to down multiple shots of Jagermeister before stumbling onto the tiny “stage” for a round of karaoke. Depressing as that scenario might sound, it’s even worse when we hear Barb hit enough notes to let us know she must have been a genuine talent as the lead singer for a promising Hair Band back in the day, before HER dreams must have died a fast hard death.
(We don’t excuse Barb for extinguishing Patti’s hopes as easily as she’d stub out a cigarette in a plastic ashtray, but we understand why Barb would behave that way.)
In green-soaked fantasy sequences, Patti dreams of becoming the next protégé of the all-powerful hip-hop mogul known as “O-Z.” In the unblinking light of reality, Patti and her friends look longingly at the Manhattan skyline as if it were the magical land of Oz. (I don’t think we need to take a Yellow Brick Road or consult a Wizard to get the references here.)
Patti’s best friend and collaborator Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay) has a fierce belief in Patti’s talents (and some pretty solid producer/engineer/lyricist skills of his own). Even when Patti is ready to give up the dream, Hareesh is always there, pushing her to keep on keeping on.
Through a series of contrived and sometimes borderline corny circumstances, Patti and Hareesh team up with a disturbingly weird and reclusive but undeniably talented musician who calls himself “Basterd” (Mamoudou Athie) and (believe it or not) Patti’s Nana to form arguably the most bizarre hip-hop group in movie history.
OK, not “arguably.” They ARE the most bizarre hip-hop group in movie history.
In scenes where the group collaborates to create some genuinely infectious music, “Patti Cake$” sizzles with energy and good vibes. How can we not root for Patti and company to somehow make it big?
Cathy Moriarty takes what could have been a clichéd role as the hip-hop Nana and infuses it with dignity and heart. Bridget Everett, a veteran cabaret singer who first gained mainstream notice on “Inside Amy Schumer,” is so good here one could imagine her playing Arthur Miller roles off-Broadway and bringing it home. Dhananjay and Athie are terrific supporting players.
But “Patti Cake$” belongs to writer-director Jasper, who makes good use of his New Jersey upbringing and his music-video background to create a memorable feature debut — and to Danielle Macdonald. Her Patti is an underdog who refuses to accept underdog status, a misfit who isn’t afraid to embrace her unique qualities, an artist willing to put herself out there even if it means she’ll be ridiculed and a loyal friend, daughter and granddaughter.
Another Wonder Woman from the summer of 2017.
Fox Searchlight Pictures presents a film written and directed by Geremy Jasper. Rated R (for language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use and a brief nude image). Running time: 108 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.