PATTI CAKE$ (USA/15A/109 mins)
Directed by Geremy Jasper. Starring Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddarth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty.
Patricia (Danielle Macdonald) is an overweight twentysomething scraping a living in New Jersey. She lives with her mother Barb (Bridget Everett), a former singer who thinks she and her daughter look like sisters. Also living with them is Patricia’s acerbic Nan (Cathy Moriarty). The glamour may have faded away for Barb with age, but she still thinks she’s got it where it counts. She barely has time to notice Patricia’s burgeoning talent as a rap singer, instead choosing to dismiss it as noise. Styling herself as Patti Cake$ AKA Killah P, Patricia is a wordsmith with a talent for street poetry. The local youths may dismiss her as ‘Dumbo’, but loyal friend Jheri (Siddarth Dhananjay) and quiet ‘Antichrist’ Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) join her for some mean beats. Together with Nan they style themselves as PBNJ. Glory awaits Patricia, if she has the nerve to take it…
THE VERDICT: New Jersey native Geremy Jasper’s feature debut has been getting rave reviews since its debut at Sundance earlier this year. Nominated for the Grand Jury prize, it’s a clear winner that holds true to its characters, environment and message. It’s a relatively simple story of youthful ambition – that of making those first tentative steps to stardom, one song at a time. The story is built around the flawed character of Patricia. She’s no angel, nor should she be. She hasn’t had the easiest upbringing, but she has a family that loves her. She takes the scorn from local rappers, even if it can be demeaning. Being both white and female, she has a double challenge ahead of her if she wants to prove her street cred.
Jasper’s excellent script has an authentic, gritty New Jersey feel to it. There’s little attempt at sugar coating, instead presenting the characters as they are, warts and all. However, that’s not to say that it’s difficult to watch. If anything, it’s the opposite. It’s joyful, funny and loaded with deeper meanings. Patricia pours her heart and soul into her rap lyrics – sometimes naughty, sometimes painful, sometimes uplifting. Life is messy and doesn’t come with an instruction manual. This particularly comes to the fore in the beautifully written relationship between Patricia and Barb. A lesser film would portray Barb as a monster. Here, she’s misguided and lost in her own faded youth, while Patricia is marching towards stardom. With a pinch of reality of course.
It takes actors of real gutsiness to play these characters and Jasper has cast some real finds here. Australian actress Macdonald digs deep to find Patricia’s inner resourcefulness, keeping the character hopeful but grounded. A stand-out scene involves a rap battle which escalates quickly, but Macdonald keeps her cool. It’s a winning performance that never loses sight of what makes Patricia tick. Even the smaller roles, like that of veteran actress Moriarty, shine. The closing scenes feature a perfectly-judged moment which brings all the story threads together without feeling forced or sentimental. ‘Patti Cake$’ is an American Rap-sody of sorts. Enthusiastic and joyful, it’s a musical treat for the soul as well as the ears.
RATING: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor

  • emerb

    “PattiCake$” is the debut feature from director Geremy Jasper which was inspired by his own experiences growing up in New Jersey. It is a real crowd pleaser, a feel good story of a young working class, overweight waitress who dreams of escaping her dead end life and making it big as a rap star. The version of New Jersey depicted here isn’t likely to do much for tourism but the settings accurately capture the working class atmosphere of New Jersey’s blue collar neighbourhoods. It’s realistic and we get a gritty picture as the story takes place in dingy bars, strip joints, crowded small homes and their music studio is
    no more than a ramshackle shed. Jasper has much music video experience which is very evident throughout the film which is peppered with great musical numbers, both familiar and brand new. While the basic premise is by no means original, it’s to the director’s credit that he manages to overcome this and bring us an energetic, authentic, humorous and ultimately very satisfying indie flick.

    23 year old Patricia Dombrowski a.k.a. “Killa P” (relative newcomer Danielle Macdonald) is single, overweight and underpaid. She lives with her perpetually drunk mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), who sits around in squalor smoking by the tv all day and she also cares for her ailing grandmother (a scene stealing Cathy Moriarty). The family face mountainous medical bills for Nana and with Barb blowing most of their money on booze, it falls on Patti to support them all with a series of catering and bar jobs in local dives. Patti needs to escape this downtrodden life and it’s her passion for rap and her real talent for composing lyrics on the spot that might just be the key. She idolizes local rap legend O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah) from afar and engages in raucous rap battles with local gangs who tease her rather large figure. Her lively and enthusiastic music buddy, pharmacist Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) really believes in her and thinks she should pursue her dreams but she just can’t get the opening she needs. It’s when she has a chance meeting with a dark, mysterious, recluse (Mamoudou Athie), later revealed to be called “Bob”, she decides to give music another chance. Bob is a guitarist and producer and hides in a remote hideaway where he has stocked much musical recording equipment. Alongside Jheri and even dragging along her cranky granny, they form the group PBNJ and come up with a CD in the hopes of getting their name out there. They start to plot to hit the big time and secure a launch gig at a local, depressing strip bar called Cheetas. Can Pattie find the courage to stand up to the hissing crowds and show them what she’s made of?

    Films about music aren’t always an easy sell but I’ve a good feeling about “PattiCake$” thanks to word of mouth, a remarkably good soundtrack and of course the memorable performances which really anchor the film. Australian actor MacDonald in the title role emerges as a genuine talent with an infectious personality which I found immediately endearing and the film would not have worked without her. You find yourself rooting for her from this Jersey kid with a fighting spirit, a dogged determination and a real talent for rap. Bridget Everett (known as a leading New York cabaret singer) is phenomenal as the broken, frustrated mother who has let herself go since she surrendered her own musical career to pregnancy and done nothing to help her daughter have a better life than she had. I’m a sucker for a happy ending so I was delighted with the big,
    high-octane finale that left me leaving the movie feeling satisfied and upbeat, you can’t ask for more than that!