Patricia “Patti” Dombrowski’s (Danielle Macdonald) outside persona is diametrically opposed to her inside one. In her head she is, as her her best friend/hype manager Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay) calls her, Patti Cake$ aka Killa P, the protege of the godfather of rap O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). In her small New Jersey suburban community, she’s “Dumbo Dumbrowski”, a nicknamed she has been burdened with since junior high, the daughter of Barb (Bridget Everett), a chronic drunk who lives out her early 20’s rock star fantasies at a dive bar.
Director Geremy Jasper brings the viewer uncomfortably into Patti’s personal space in the first frames of Patti Cake$. The camera is very tight as she wakes up in her dump of a room, hits the washroom, then sits on the toilet as she works through rhymes. It’s not any prettier in her mother’s room or out in the living room where her Nana (Cathy Moriarty) is perched in her wheelchair watching her favourite courtroom show. Nana, however, always has time for her granddaughter giving warm greetings to her superstar before Patti heads out the door to pursue her dreams.
Hitting the pavement running, Patti and Hareesh try all avenues to get Patti the opportunity to show her skills on stage. She engages in rap battles in parking lots, at gas stations, and wherever else her rhymes can be heard. One of her frequent battle opponents is small time pizza maker /drug dealer Danny (Patrick Brana), who she’s also crushing on hard. The pair eventually raid an acquaintance’s recording studio and begin mixing a track that could signal an uptick in our heroine’s fortunes. As her music career start to take shape, Patti lands lucrative part time job, for a prestigious catering company, that brings in much needed funds to assist with the Dombrowksi’s debts. This ultimately forces Patti to take an honest look at which path her life should take.
Australian Danielle Macdonald is convincing as the suburban plus-sized rap princess from her first utterance of Ma with a sharp Jersey accent. Her timing is spot on and her charisma is infectious. Siddharth Dhananjay is perfect as Patti’s sidekick Hareesh; he embraces his ridiculousness sending only positive vibes to his best friend. Mamoudou Athie’s Bob aka Basterd is a soft-spoken soul underneath a volatile exterior. The other notable performance in the film is Bridget Everett as the needy Barb. Everett is a revelation as a mother who is so obsessed with her own problems in life that neglects her duties as a parent.
Patti Cake$ is a film that champions a marginalized member of society. Geremy Jasper’s gritty production allows the story and performance to breathe and resonate with the audience. All of this helps to make Patti Cake$ one of best indie films of the year.