On its surface Patti Cake$ shouldn’t work. A film about a rapper featuring an Australian without a musical background, a non-descript cast and the scenic setting of Northern New Jersey has all the set up of a film that winds up contending for a Golden Raspberry. This film should be on the short list for an Oscar.
Simple premise. Patricia “Dumbo” Dombrowski a.k.a. “Killa P” (Danielle Macdonald) is a rapper who just can’t get a break despite being quite good at rapping. She’s got a pretty crappy life in Northern New Jersey, too; she takes care of her drunk mother while working multiple jobs on top of trying to break into the rap game. The film follows her as she embraces the struggle and tries to make it.
What drives the film is that it feels authentic in a way neither of those films did. The film is set in Northern New Jersey and doesn’t give us a glamorous view of the life. Geremy Jasper has taken the Rocky type of film-making approach and applied it to rap; this is an ugly world filled with people who inhabit it. Jasper populates this world with the sort of people we’d expect in it, not beautiful people playing dress up. It gives the film the sort of authenticity 8 Mile couldn’t garner; 8 Mile had at its heart a world-famous rapper playing a younger version of himself.
We expected him to overcome the odds in the rap game because he’s Eminem, who 15 years later is still a world-famous rapper. It’s like watching Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson trying to portray a professional wrestler struggling for his big break; at one point he was the biggest pro wrestler in the world and thus it’s not hard of a stretch to buy it.
Seeing Macdonald spitting verses, and without her native Australian accent to boot, is much more impressive because she’s going into the film without any semblance of a musical background. It’s unexpected when you see her rapping because she doesn’t have anything in her past that would indicate she’d be any good at it or has done it on any stage prior.
The plus side to using virtual unknowns, as opposed to a world-famous rapper or an actor of note, is that it’s an unexpected surprise when we see Patti start rapping. Seeing Rabbit drop bars in 8 Mile isn’t special because it’s Eminem; the downside of films involving rap music is that most times you have to have quality hip hop artists with names, records of note, et al, in order for it to feel credible.
Seeing Macdonald on screen is amazing considering she isn’t a recording artist; it takes a Rocky knock-off, which is what this film basically is at its core, and brings it into something spectacular. Macdonald is Oscar worthy and carries this film much further then it has any right to be or go.
A handful of EPK pieces highlight the Blu-ray release.
Fox Searchlight presents Patti Cake$. Written and Directed by Geremy Jasper. Starring Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty. Run Time: minutes. Rated R. Released on: 11.7.2017
Tags: Bridget Everett, Cathy Moriarty, Danielle Macdonald, Geremy Jasper, Mamoudou Athie, Patti Cake$, Siddharth Dhananjay