Directed by Geremy Jasper
Starring Dianielle Macdonald, Cathy Moriarty, Siddarth Dhananjay, Bridget Everett
In many ways Pattie Cake$ is a formulaic feel good film, something we’ve seen thousands of times before – young idealistic dreamer, from the wrong side of the tracks, pursuing a musical dream to get a better life. The story is as old as sound in motion pictures, but this doesn’t stop Pattie Cake$ from being a great little film.
Patricia Dombroski (Dianelle Macdonald) has always dreamed of an escape from the grind of minimum wage jobs in New Jersey. A dream fueled by the works of her rap idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah). She herself is a word smith, forging rhymes with her best friend, Jheri (Siddarth Dhananjay), that they hope will take them across the bridge to New York. When they come across Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a self proclaimed anarchist antichrist, unleashing a wall of sound at an open-mic night, Pattie thinks she might have found a member to join her band, and the producer to make their album.
However it is the small touches, the rich detail, the charismatic performances, and the gentle nature of this film that really lift it as a movie.
Despite that formulaic story, there’s thematically rather a lot going on under the hood – an exploration of body image and overcoming the negative societal pressures of being a larger woman, a look at the changing acceptability of music genres across race and age group, the hallucinatory nature of the American Dream in comparison to the minimum wage reality. That’s a pretty solid list of issues touched upon, merely for a feel good movie. Pattie Cake$ doesn’t oversell the message, but those themes are woven into the fabric of the tale that it’s telling.
Danielle Macdonald’s performance is the core of this film. For an Australian actress with no rap experience, she embodies the New Jersey rapper Killa P perfectly. This is the result of two years of coaching and finding her character’s own unique voice. A voice which director Geremy Jasper constantly refines through tinkering with his own lyrics to bring to the forefront. Macdonald plays Pattie with the appropriate combination of bravado, but also an occasional tentativeness. You believe her weariness, can see how harsh experiences have left her shy, and her determination to overcome that.
It also helps that the cast chemistry is evident, not only between the misfit band members of PBNJ, but also the multi-generation family of the Dombroskis. None of the main characters seem under served by the story and all the cast have moments to shine. Be that Youtube rapper Siddarth Dhananjay’s full of bluster portrayal of Pattie’s best friend Jherri, to veteran actress Cathy Moriarty’s (Raging Bull) joyfully acerbic Nana.
An infectiously humorous film that has some genuine heart about it.