Like 8 Mile out of Precious, PATTI CAKE$ is a rock solid cinematic rap to dreams, aspirations and perseverance.
Written, directed, and with original music and songs by Geremy Jasper, the film stars Danielle Macdonald, an Australian actress fallen on her feet in the American film market.
Macdonald plays the titular Patti Cake$, a Jersey girl tending bar, doing casual catering gigs, and dreaming of making it in the music business as a rap artist. Patti’s rich inner life is depicted in hallucinatory sequences that turn classic hip-hop tropes into surreal dreams, giving the film a delightful dose of cinematic splendour.
In the grittier real life passages of the film, PATTI CAKE$ gloriously illuminates how prose, tinctured and textured, becomes irrevocably poetry. This is a film about working people who are not sentimentalised or patronised, exulting in universal pleasures like singing and nagged by universal griefs like the inevitable loss of loved ones and the imminent despair of dreams dowsed.
Out of everyday challenges and defeats, victories and regrets, Patti Cake$ rises and rouses, riffs and raps.
Geremy Jasper has written endearing characters that engender compassion. At first sight, the characters could look like stereotypes, but like all good writers, Jasper perceives the realities that underlie the stereotypes and makes them exuberant, exultant and exciting.
Macdonald doesn’t just supply the avoirdupois but presence, assurance and power.
Selecting an Australian actress with no rapping experience as a blue-collar New Jersey hip-hop queen was not the only unusual choice Jasper made.
The filmmaker, when casting Patti’s confidante and partner-in-crime Jheri, a young pharmacist by day and R&B crooner after hours, stumbled upon videos by “Dhananjay the First” on WorldStarHipHop, on which aspiring performers can post their own videos.
In those videos he watched a South Asian college student remixing R&B classics like Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name,” dressed in do-rags and oversized jerseys, smoking Newports and counting wads of cash. It seemed like Jheri already existed. Jasper tracked down the performer, whose full name is Siddharth Dhananjay, and the casting is serendipitous.
Bridget Everett gives an Everest performance as Barb, Patti’s mum, the tragic barfly and karaoke queen. Barb was part of the late ’80s hair-metal scene in Jersey, like Bon Jovi and Skid Row. The glamour and the glory she was chasing outran her and she wasn’t able to achieve her dreams.
Barb was a really attractive woman with a lot of swagger and strut when she was younger, but the years of drinking and self-destructive behaviour have taken that away. For Patti to even have aspirations of making music is enough to throw Barb into a jealous tailspin. Everett poignantly captures Barb’s pain and disappointment, as well as the thrill she still gets from singing, even if the venue is a shabby bar and her band is a karaoke machine.
Cathy Moriarty plays Patti’s Nanna, wheel chair bound and pumped on painkillers. Her hip has popped but she lends her vocals to her grandchild’s hip hop recording and literally becomes a part of their oral history.
Even if hip hop or rap is not your musical cup of tea, PATTI CAKE$ transcends its foundations, delivering a unique and original experience.
It’s not over till the fat lady sings, and really that’s just the beginning.