Patti Cake$

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Patti Cake$ Movie Poster Image
White female rapper chases success; language, sex, drinking.
  • R
  • 2017
  • 109 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

You can run from where you're from but not from who you are. Follow your dreams.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Patti's mother is an unemployed alcoholic who harbors resentment over her failed singing career, supposedly stopped short by her pregnancy with Patti. She mocks Patti's dreams of rapping. Nana is in a wheelchair and smokes like a chimney but fully backs anything Patti wants to do. Patti and her musician friends believe in themselves and each other.


Disrespectful audience members throw things at Patti as she is about to rap. A character has a stroke and later dies, both offscreen. A fellow rapper calls Patti a "Goodyear blimp" and "pig in s--t," denigrating her large body.


A couple kiss and then make love offscreen. In a lyric, a penis is compared to a sausage. Picture of a bare-breasted woman on a dart board. A mother tells her daughter to show more cleavage to get a job. A man says he couldn't have sex with a mermaid because of her fin so he asked for "a little head." He then asks who does he have to "blow" to get a drink. Bathroom graffiti displays male genitals. Many rap lyrics make sexual references.


"F--k," "s--t," "hell," "bitch," "t-tty," "p---y," "crap," "hung like a horse," "d--k," "blow," "ass," "douche," "damn," "rim job," and "asinine."


Rap lyrics express yearnings for wealth, money, the admiration of others.


Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Alcoholism is on display. Scenes take place in bars where people drink to excess. Adults smoke cigarettes and marijuana. An invalid needs Percocet for her pain.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Patti Cake$ is a 2017 coming-of-age tale about a working-class New Jersey white woman who wants to be a rapper. Race isn't her only problem. In reference to her plus-size body, neighborhood guys have been calling her "Dumbo" since junior high. Fighting many stereotypes, she yearns to receive recognition for her talent from a Jersey hip-hop producer. A scene takes place in a pole-dancing bar, but no nudity is shown. A couple has sex but nothing is shown. Language is explicit both in Patti's life and lyrics, including "f--k," "s--t," "d--k," "p---y," "vagina," "hell," and "t-tty." Characters drink alcohol and smoke both marijuana and cigarettes. Alcoholism is on display. A picture of a bare-breasted woman is on a dart board. A mother tells her daughter to show more cleavage to get a job. A man says he couldn't have sex with a mermaid because of her fin so he asked for "a little head." He then asks who does he have to "blow" to get a drink. Bathroom graffiti displays male genitals.

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What's the story?

PATTI CAKE$ (Danielle Macdonald) tends bar and, when there are openings, she works as a server for a bar mitzvah caterer. When she isn't scrimping for money to support her disabled Nana (Cathy Moriarty) and her unemployed, drunken mother Barb (Bridget Everett), she's spitting bars with her bestie, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), another rapper who works at a pharmacy. Together they hustle to get studio time. Like others in their working-class neighborhood, they long to escape and they see their passion for rap as the way out. The local rapper wannabes view Patti, the heavyset white woman, and Jheri, her enthusiastic Indian cohort, as jokes. Even her mother, a failed rock singer drinking her way through a life of regret and coulda-beens, laughs at her dream. Only her grandmother offers encouragement, as does her new friend, Basterd the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie), a loner musician who barely talks and lives in an abandoned shed near a cemetery, where he makes music and contemplates anarchy. Jheri, Patti, and Basterd record their collaborations and eventually perform to acclaim at a competition. They don't win, but the reception urges them to keep plugging away.

Is it any good?

This film works as a root-for-the-underdog saga, giving us an involving view of an unrelentingly grim upbringing and the despair that follows. Patti has money troubles, a minimal education, and a dead-end future, obstacles that would smother less powerful personalities. In one ironic scene, a wealthy black producer natters on about art and then sneers at Patti's whiteness-rooted inauthenticity as a rapper, calling her a "culture vulture" who has appropriated an allegedly black-only art. Her poverty and grit underscores the absurdity of his assessment.

The talented cast of Patti Cake$ turns a fairly routine story into something special. Macdonald's power as both an actor and a performer is even more astonishing in light of the fact that she's Australian, someone for whom speaking with a Jersey accent and rapping are both foreign. The rap may not inspire shouts of "bravo" from the audience, but it's fun to hear Neosporin rhymed with Wheel of Fortune.  Director-writer Geremy Jasper gives us a place where crude language is constant, as if what we think of as "dirty" language is the only thing foul and ugly enough to express the anger, pain, and frustration of people who know they've been left behind by the more privileged, better-educated elite. Barb thinks Nana may have "Oldzheimer's," and that is just the most minor indication of how ignorance has narrowed the boundaries and possibilities of all these difficult lives.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what it means to follow your dreams. What do you think happens to Patti after the movie ends? Do you see future success? Why or why not?

  • Patti Cake$ suggests that it's important to work with good collaborators. How do you think working with Jheri and Basterd influenced Patti's work?

  • How important is it for young people to receive support from parents and close friends? How damaging can it be when parents denigrate goals and aspirations? What are some examples of each in the movie?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love music

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