Written and Directed by fellow newcomer Geremy Jasper, Patti Cake$ (aka Killa P aka Patricia Dombrowski) is a wannabe rapper living in poverty in New Jersey. By day Patricia works dead end jobs to support her mother’s alcoholism and her grandmother’s deteriorating health; but by night Patricia morphs into the illest MC in New Jersey – Killa P, and spits mean bars with her best friend and hype man Hareesh aka Jehri (Siddharth Dhananjay).
Together they idolise legendary hip hop artist O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah) and dream of making it big in the east coast rap game. Gaining the favour of a local experimental musician/anarchist ‘Basterd the Antichrist’ and with the support of her grandmother, they develop a mixtape under the pseudonym ‘PBNJ’.
Cutting his teeth creating music videos for big hitters in the music industry such as Florence Welch and Selena Gomez, Geremy Jaspers filmmaking is unique and a joy to watch. His origins in music are clear in the editing process and his work with cinematographer Federico Cesca (whose previous credits include mostly short films). His heavy use of symbology, use of quick cuts, lighting and colour are particularly gripping. The soundtrack, written and composed entirely by Jasper, is impressive, a creative a mix of different hip-hop styles that pay homage to a number of the genre’s greatest visionaries.
Danielle Macdonald is endearing in her first leading role, she displays an incredible versatility and commitment to her craft – teaching herself to rap in order to play Patti. Although she does suffer, working with a weak script, Macdonald makes it work, and watching Patti try to keep together her fractured family and tenuous existence is captivating. The rest of the cast are also commendable. Macdonald’s relationship with screen veteran Cathy Moriarty as grandmother and granddaughter is particularly sweet.
Patti Cake$ really misses the mark in the story department, it feels like a real run of the mill ‘come from nothing making my way in the world’ story, and borrows a lot of motifs from its’ apparent predecessor – Scott Silver’s 8 Mile, made famous for starring Hip Hop legend Eminem.
There are moments where Patti Cake$ really hits on winning formulas, what it’s like to be marginalised, what it’s like to reach for the stars and fail. However, the film sometimes goes missing in the over complication of trying to use symbols and iconography to convey meaning. One thing is made clear by the film; both Jasper and Macdonald’s stars are rising.