Coming of age story with plenty of heart and chutzpah is what director/screenwriter Geremy Jasper’s (best known for videos for Florence + the Machine and Selena Gomez) feature film debut is all about. This is not your typical trying to find my place in the world tale. There is nothing typical about Patti Cake$, from the fact it is about an overweight twenty something white girl from Nowheresville New Jersey trying to fulfill her dream of being a rapper to the fact that despite all its indie allure it sneaks in plenty of heart adding up to an irresistible concoction.
With her curly red hair and white complexion, Patti Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald – Lady Bird, Every Secret Thing) is not what you picture a female rapper to look like. It is only when she opens her mouth and spits out her rhymes that you realize that she is the real deal. Achieving her dream alongside her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay – first film) is not going to be easy or even realistic as she lives in poverty in a tough small town in New Jersey.
In the meantime she lives with her failed singer and heavy drinker of a mother (Bridget Everett – Trainwreck, Sex in the City) and her physically unwell Nana (Cathy Moriarty – Raging Bull, Analyze That) and works at a dive of a bar as a bartender to help her mom with the bills, including her Nana’s medical bills. During her down time she and Jheri dream of making it big in the rap world despite all they have going against them.
It is only when Killa P, Patti rap moniker, meets up with a reclusive and basically mute goth rocker Basterd (Mamaudou Athie – Unicorn Store, The Circle) that their sound is truly born. PB&J, as they are known, even includes Patti’s Nana. Using Basterd’s equipment they record a CD and start passing it out.
After Patti, who is working part time at a catering outfit, is rejected by the local hip hop legend O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah – Stomp the Yard, Money Monster) it seems like the dream is over. It is only when local DJ French Tips (MC Lyte – Love & Basketball, Limitless) enters them in a local rap competition that it seems like they might actually make it.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that this is simple an overweight female version of the Eminem vehicle, 8 Mile. That would be doing Patti Cake$ a major disservice. There is so much more to this film than what 8 Mile had to offer. This is not simply a hip hop film but one of low-income Americans, dreams of getting out of small towns and just needing a chance to show the world and yourself what you are capable of.
Geremy Jasper demonstrated his cajones by casting unknown Aussie actress Danielle Macdonald in the lead role. Not only did the Australian have to work on mastering the New Jersey accent, she also had to learn how to rap. A tall order which she accomplishes in spades. She so melts into the character you being to wonder how much is script and how much is just her. Feels like the role was written for Macdonald. This is not simply Macdonald’s show. Athie is great in the tricky role of the odd goth rocker. YouTube personality Dhananjay provides much of the comic relief.
Tons of laughs here. But not so much that it becomes a farce. Just enough to lighten the mood from that of the dark and depressing town it takes place in.
Just like the New Jersey town it is set it there are some rough spots in the film, but overall this is a solid film and one that I hope finds an audience. Not perfect though it has more than enough heart. Impossible not to cheer for Patti.