Fox Searchlight 1 hour 48 minutes R Reviewed August 18th, 2017
By the end of this film, it is hard to believe that Danielle Macdonald is not Patti Cake$ in real life. Director Geremy Jasper shot this film documentary- style, jumping around as we follow Patti around her gritty Jersey town.
The Australian actress shows just the right amount of attitude and insecurity as a hefty female having all kinds of growing pains trying to make it big in the rap world. This film can be compared to Eminem’s 8 Mile, showing a tough uphill battle for someone not thought of as a rapper trying to make it. Patti had even more to deal with than just showing off. The put downs from family and everyone she encounters are just plain mean.
Jasper is known as a director of commercials and music videos, always obsessed with hip hop. He wrote all the rap and must’ve given that same obsession not only to his character, Patti, but to Macdonald, who spews the multitude of lyrics with a believable Jersey accent like a pro. MacDonald was given a song a week to learn, listening over and over again until she could get every word to the beat. And the closeups of her performing show how she nailed learning all those lyrics. The closeups show off her being able to work it.
Patti is also known in the film as Killer P, her tough rap name. Her real name is Patricia Dumbrowski and is frequently called “Dumbo” when teased by the Jersey hoods who grew up with her.
Jasper used his own New Jersey background to create Patti’s combative Mom, Barb, (Bridget Everett, Trainwreck, Sex and the City) and her crusty, but supportive grandmother, Nana, (Cathy Moriarty.) Three generations of women in a family communicate plenty without a lot of dialogue. Director Jasper was raised by strong Jersey women and uses that here.
Everett as Patti’s Mom, plays a loud, frustrated, bust-out alcoholic well. Barb was in a band when along came surprise baby Patti. Everett gets down and dirty singing loud and long showing her resentment for her daughter trying to have the career that eluded her. It’s constant sparring in a true love/hate relationship. Patti resents having to work as a bartender and then with a caterer to pay the family bills. The tide starts to turn when Barb realizes her daughter has some musical talents of her own.
Siddarth Dhananjay plays Jheri, Patti’s rap fan and best buddy. He is trying to help her. The scene where he introduces her on the pharmacy loud speaker where he works lets her make a royal entrance. She’s comfortable flaunting her new, bravado rap character in front of her friend.
The key to putting their band together is a weird dude she meets known as Basterd the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie), who has a secret studio accessed through a tunnel filled with graffiti. Nana gets to play in the studio too, adding background to their music for the band they call PBNJ. The way the scenes are shot showing facial expressions as they work together reveal how they are slowly recognizing each other’s talent and especially Patti’s.
Once Patti has a recording to shop around, Patti gets a lucky break to put it in front of her hip hop idol, the rich and famous rapper O-Z. But it doesn’t go as planned. But there are even more ups and downs as the camera follows this rap master wannabe.
This is more than a coming of age film for a girl who feels like a hopeless outcast with big dreams. We’ve all been there. Jasper uses some very effective tools which are simple special effects to show what Patti is going through. He shows Patti’s dreams in technicolor green with her in the Emerald City, or Patti floating in air as she walks down the street losing herself in her head phones as she listens to her beats. She gets put back to reality abruptly each time. It’s the quiet musician with the studio who finally recognizes, “You’ve got more talent and imagination than this whole town combined.”
Jasper keeps the focus on Patti’s reactions and emotions through her ups and downs. There are some nice twists in her relationships which also provides material for her raps. The language is rough, but in keeping with her place in the world. How she ends up is pretty predictable. Nothing to gasp at, except her talent.
Danielle Macdonald is the star of this show. You’d never know she’s Australian or that she never rapped, or even sang, a day in her life when you see her give it up. She kills as Killer P.