Patti Cake$ – Film Review by David Minogue
Director: Geremy Jasper
Writer: Geremy Jasper
Stars: Danielle Macdonald, Mamoudou Athie, Siddharth Dhananjay, Bridget Everett, Cathy Moriarty
The theme of ‘someday I’ll get out of this small town and make it big’ is one that has long featured in both commercial and arthouse cinema. That is the basic premise of Patti Cake$ where Patti Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) who while living at home in northern New Jersey with her mother Barb (Bridget Everett) and her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) aspires to one day become a famous rap music artist. Patti has a variety of names in the film including the film’s title and her rap name Killa P.
Patti Cake$ is the debut feature length film by Geremy Jasper who has previously made two short films Glamouriety (2012) and Outlaws (2015) as well as music videos for artists such as Selena Gomez and the Scene and Florence and the Machine. The tone and imagery that is often seen in rap music videos is one that features in moments of Patti Cake$ in dream like sequences but for the most part the film is set in the gritty realism of the streets, bars and clubs of the area of New Jersey that Patti has grown up in.
While Patti’s relationship with her grandmother is continuously depicted as loving and humorous throughout the film her relationship with her mother Barb is a mix of both antagonistic and seeing elements in each other that make them who they are. Barb is also a singer in the film. While she is from a different musical era, her story is one that could also be a film in itself.
In an interview at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where Patti Cake$ was well received, Geremy Jasper noted that the idea for the character of Patti came from his own love of rap music but also from the real life characters of the New Jersey women that he knew when he was growing up and their way of talking and being themselves. Bridget Everett as Barb adds a realness to her character and she and Cathy Moriarty as Nana help create a believable family structure where the reality of financial debt and health care in today’s America is always present. There are moments of sentimentality but also some funny sharp exchanges between Patti and Barb, especially in the film’s early scenes.
Patti’s focus is her relationship with her family and trying to create her own individual rap style but she also aligns herself with other people who also aspire to better their own lives through the use of music. These include Patti’s friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) who serves as mentor, manager and aspiring singer himself and later they both meet a punk metal music artist who calls himself Basterd the Antichrist. There is no hint of irony in his character which is played initially in a status of almost frozen expression by Mamoudou Athie. Basterd however has the most individual and memorable look. It is often in the depiction of his character and how his own music is utilised within the film that the story subliminally becomes the most interesting.
Patti’s raps and rhymes are performance pieces in themselves but always function as part of the script’s narrative. While her delivery of these is excellent what she is actually saying within her rap sometimes unfortunately come across as corny and unintentionally funny. A contest against a rival male rap artist is one of the film’s best scenes, in which Patti makes her rival come across as more Poundshop Marky Mark than the Eminem he aspires to be.
Patti’s rap music competitors and her music influences such as the rap superstar O-Z are male but in her connections with Jheri and Basterd she also aligns herself with true, real male friends too. Patti Cake$ is about Patti as someone who represents herself but is still aware of the dreams of others.
Like most films that feature music as a central theme, Patti Cake$ is more than the music as Patti is an optimist who in the best human way has moments of self-doubt. Geremy Jasper has created a memorable character in Patti that hopefully and rightfully will make Danielle Macdonald a new star to remember.