Director: Geremy Jasper
Screenwriter: Geremy Jasper
Runtime: 109 mins.
Australian release date: 14 September 2017
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 7 September 2017.
How does a girl from the northern beaches of Sydney, especially one with no musical experience, wind up playing an aspiring New Jersey rapper? Of his choice for the lead role of Patti, the director says when he first saw Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, “I didn’t know if she could act, I didn’t know if she could rap. But that was the face that had been in my head the entire time. She looked like a young girl, but she also had this toughness to her. I knew that I wanted to watch that face.” Patti Cake$, directed, written, and with original music and songs by Geremy Jasper, is a treat. From the opening shot when Patricia Dombrowski, aka Patti Cake$, aka Killa P, literally fills the screen you know that you’re in for something completely different. For a plus-sized white girl to even dream of becoming a rapper in a male-dominated, misogynist environment takes, dare I say, balls. This film is an uplifting experience - don’t be put off if you’re not a lover of rap and hip-hop as a hell of a lot more than music happens in this amiable indie pic.
Patti works in a bar and dreams of escaping her working-class suburb by becoming a star in the music industry. In this she has an ally, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), another aspiring rapper, who works in the local pharmacy. They are constantly being derided by the Jersey home-boys, who ridicule Patti in particular because in their eyes, she’s “ugly and fat;” since school she’s been called Dumbo. Patti’s determination is not helped by the negativity of her mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), a failed singer who is desperate to return to performing. Throw into the equation Patti’s grandma Nana (Cathy Moriarty), a wheelchair-bound chain-smoker, and musical enigma, Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), who rarely speaks, and the music begins. As the characters endeavour to succeed, recording some tracks and trying to get gigs, they’re invariably knocked down but this is what makes the plot such an engaging experience; they’re all so likeable - warts ‘n’ all!
Mcdonald learned to rap from a group of Brooklyn musicians and she was as surprised as everyone else when she received a standing ovation when Patti Cake$ screened at Sundance. The interesting thing is that taking a chance with such an atypical lead and throwing her into a most unlikely scenario has worked. Geremy Jasper particularly chose a female in the central role because, he says, “Patti could be my sister. In the film, she is going through what I was going through when I was 23,” when he was attempting to enter the hip-hop domain. It reminded me of the fabulous film Precious, where the central character also didn’t fit the Hollywood stereotype of beauty and yet succeeded in blowing away her audience with a voice that was unique and powerful. If only more directors took the same risk and provided a platform for women of size. Jasper says that Patti Cake$ is “a two-hour valentine to both hip-hop music and the big-mouthed, big-bodied Jersey women who raised me.” Amen to that - go girls!