Director: Geremy Jasper
Starring: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, McCaul Lombardi
Going into Patti Cake$, I genuinely had no idea what awaited me. From the brief snippets of the trailer I’d seen and the posters up on the wall, my expectations ranged from something akin to the emotional realism of This Is England, to the cliche-ridden poverty porn of a Channel 4 reality show.
Following the story of Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), a.k.a. Patti Cake$, a.k.a. Killa P, the film charts the aspiring rapper’s efforts to ascend above the limitations of her New Jersey hometown, driven by her extraordinary talent for (often funny and offensive) wordplay. Patti Cake$ is not a typical ‘rags to riches’ story, however; there are few cliches and those that do exist often twist into the unexpected. The narrative (written and directed by Geremy Jasper), sees Dombrowski navigate a minefield of false idols and self-doubt with moments of comedy and tragedy throughout (often occurring simultaneously).
Most importantly, however, Dombrowski does not embark on this journey alone. Bastard (the self-proclaimed antichrist played by Mamoudou Athie) and Jheri (Dombrowski’s closest friend and comic relief, a cinematic debut for YouTube parody-filmmaker-turned-actor Siddharth Dhananjay) are equally well-crafted characters. Whilst the rapper takes centre stage, the trio are united in a mutual respect for each other’s talents, and it is the dynamic between these misfit musicians that drives much of the film, particularly after the introduction of an unconventional and touching romance.
Act your age.
Of course, music is an essential element in Patti Cake$, acting as a focal point for the narrative and as a release for the characters (particularly Bastard and Dombrowski), who are otherwise silenced by their identity and surroundings. Throughout the film, for example, Dombrowski’s lyrics – muttered acapella in front of the bathroom mirror or, later, over beats produced in Bastard’s shack – are an expression of her immobility, a plea for someone to rescue her from the small house where she must provide for her mother (a failed musician herself) and her ailing grandmother. However, the film’s visuals are similarly effective. Without high-budget spectacle (the film reportedly cost a mere $1 million to produce) Jasper and cinematographer Federico Cesca perfectly portray the dreaming and despair of downtrodden musicians with no platform to display their talents, with intense closeups capturing emotional exchanges alongside stylized shots lifted from music videos.
It is rare to find a character that so accurately represents the struggle of marginalized creatives as Patricia Dombrowski, and yet Patti Cake$ is laden with them. A refreshing change from stereotypical stories of straight-to-stardom success, this is a film that is bound to entertain audiences from start to finish and inspire them long after the credits have rolled. I’d entered the cinema with certain expectations and I left feeling pleasantly surprised – Patti Cake$ is something else entirely, and all the better for it.