One of the cornerstones of great filmmaking is creating relatability. Nothing is quite as engaging as feeling like we may never achieve our ambitions. The crushing fear of failure that puts us on the brink of constant existential crisis is often the only thing that propels us as well.
As an aspiring comedian, I understand the struggle intimately. When I get on stage and make a joke about killing a spider in my bedroom with a string cheese wrapper because I don’t need no man and people don’t laugh, that fear doubles down. But that’s a story for another time. Or never. I digress.
Growing up in “dirty Jersey”, Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) is suspended between her reality — a crap bartending job where she serves her mother shots nightly — and her intended reality — spitting bars with rap royalty O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah).
Her mom, Barb (Bridget Everett), is the kind of woman who dresses like she’s a teenager and behaves like she just scored a fake ID. Together, they care for Patti’s ailing Nana (Cathy Moriarty) who lives with them and spends most of her time chain-smoking in a Lay-Z-Boy and bingeing daytime television.
As dire as her day-to-day may seem, Patti finds solace in her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay). Together, they are Bitch Cassidy and the Lap Dance Kid. Just as motivated as his rhyming partner in crime, Patti AKA Killa P, Jheri wants to get the hell out of Jersey, too. Motivation only goes so far, especially when discouragement abounds.
Patti and Jheri find themselves at a show where they see an enigmatic and generously pierced gentleman by the name of Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) rapping over metal, much to the chagrin of the rest of the crowd. Patti takes a shine to him, but Basterd barely gives her the time of day.
Feeling stuck, Patti takes Nana out for a stroll in her wheelchair to visit her late grandfather at the cemetery. Spotting Basterd visiting someone as well, Patti rolls a dozing Nana his way, but he skitters off through a tunnel aptly named the Gates of Hell. She calls Jheri and tells him to meet her there and, against her better judgement, enters the drippy, dark underpass. Sleeping Nana and all.
Upon discovering Basterd’s pad — a dilapidated shack in the woods — Patti enters to find that he’s got an anomalous recording studio setup. It takes some coercing — with Basterd and a now awakened and alarmed Nana — but something magic happens in that shitty little shed and PBNJ is born.
Barb learns that Patti is an aspiring rapper and immediately shuts it down, but Killa P knows she’s got something special going. Taking on odd jobs to make extra money — both for the PBNJ fund and for Nana’s medical bills — Patti works herself to the bone. Her fraught relationship with her mother will soon come to a head and leaving Jersey becomes an insurmountable feat.
Despite her best efforts, everything falls apart; Nana’s health declines further, she and Jheri have a falling out, and she manages to alienate Basterd. All in about 24 hours.
But, where there’s a will, there is a way, as they say. Look at that! I can spit a hot sixteen, too. (I’m sorry.)
Patti isn’t the kind to sit idly by and let things fall to pieces and, in the face of what seems like inevitable failure, she will pull off something totally remarkable. Because she’s a bo$$ bitch.
This is one of my favorite movies of the year, you guys. Writer/Director — who also wrote the music for the film — Geremy Jasper has something truly exceptional in Patti Cake$. It’s an underdog story without the saccharine, wrapped-up-in-a-neat-package finish. It is thoroughly uplifting and good to its audience from start to finish.
The story itself gives so much to the viewer and tests our emotions throughout. It allows the audience time to feel for these characters deeply and makes it easy to understand them in a profound way. Even Barb’s erratic and destructive behavior comes from a place that is easy to see in oneself and, therefore, allows us to love her even though we’re kind of mad at her.
Comedian Bridget Everett’s role as Patti’s mother is a considerable departure from anything she’s done previously and she rocks it flawlessly. Her on-screen daughter, played by Danielle Macdonald is — unbelievably — an Australian native! I was lucky enough to participate in a Q&A after the screening I attended featuring Jasper, Everett, and Macdonald. Macdonald even rapped for us a little!
Evidently she’d never rapped once before this film and you wouldn’t know it. This young woman is a tremendous talent. The movie was expertly cast, pairing some relatively unknowns — Macdonald, Athie, and Dhananjay — with legends (yeah, I said legends) Everett and Moriarty.
If you’ve ever felt like you’re not going anywhere or you’re lost or it’s too late, see this movie. SEE THIS MOVIE. Even if you’ve never felt that way and you’re doing great and everybody hates you because everything always works out for you, just see this movie. All of you. Find the Patti Cake$ in you, get inspired, and get out there and be somebody!