The story beats of Patti Cake$, a socioeconomic-sermonizing comedy about a thick young white woman with huge hip-hop dreams and little prospects, are as predictable as the ticking of an egg timer, as generic and tinny as the pulses of a drum machine. I rooted not for Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), the aspiring rhymer whose sobriquet (one of many) provides the title, but for more MC Lyte, the hip-hop oracle whose brief appearance in Geremy Jasper's feature debut remains the movie's sole unadulterated pleasure and surprise.
"The bigger the girl / The deeper the pain," Patti raps at one rookie showcase, the lyrics (also written by Jasper) representative of the flat wordsmithery throughout. (A few song titles, like "Comma Sutra," reveal more skill.) The 23-year-old endures lazily-sketched-out hardships: She lives in a tiny house in an unnamed part of New Jersey cluttered with too many liquor bottles drained by her mom, Barb (Bridget Everett), and with the medical equipment of chain-smoking, wheelchair-bound granny (Cathy Moriarty), whose care Patti subsidizes through bartending and catering gigs.
"The white Precious," as one rival calls her, may be trying to master a musical genre known for ingenious metaphors and similes, but Patti Cake$ rarely rises above the literal. Visual redundancies abound: "Let's go to the diner," her desexed pal and beat-boxing collaborator Hareesh (Siddarth Dhananjay) suggests after a gas-station rap battle -- his request immediately followed by a screen-filling sign reading DINER. The friends will soon be joined by a black noise-rocker who answers to Basterd the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie). At first bracingly unassimilable, Basterd invariably becomes softer, safer, a casualty of the dictates of algorithm-tested American-independent underdog comedy.