Danielle Macdonald hadn’t rapped a single note before stepping into the role of Patricia Dombrowski (aka Killa P, aka Patti Cake$), but you would never believe it for a minute after seeing the Sundance and Cannes sensation Patti Cake$, which began its domestic theatrical run in a handful of theaters over the weekend. Macdonald, from Australia, plays a New Jersey girl working as a bartender but dreaming of stardom as a dynamite white female rapper who has the talent, if not the opportunity, to make it big. This is a true underdog tale of perseverance, luck and a will to break out of a bleak existence on the wings of a song or two.
As I say in my video review above, Macdonald is a revelation here, but so are the other two women in this tale of three generations stuck in neutral as the world passes them by. Bridget Everett, the New York cabaret star and actress in Amy Schumer’s TV series, plays Patti’s mother Barb, an equally talented jazz singer whose career never got much further than the local bar where her daughter serves drinks. Her uninspiring existence watching TV most of the day is enough to spur Patti on to a different path. The great Oscar-nominated co-star of Raging Bull, Cathy Moriarty, is just terrific as Patti’s ailing grandmother, wheelchair-bound but still feisty.
In this likable cast of characters there is also Patti’s friend Hareesh (Siddarth Dhananjay) who joins in on her riffs as the pair try to get heard outside the squalor of their New Jersey digs, as well as a kind of mystery man named Basterd The Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie) who oddly provides the key to Patti’s dreams when it turns out he has a hidden music studio in an underground tunnel area of the park. It is there Patti gets to make a demo with the unexpected but delightful assist of Granny. As she tries to forge a musical career, Patti also takes side jobs bartending for an upscale catering company, but like so much she attempts it doesn’t go all that well.
The movie, though bleak looking, is actually a bright and hopeful fairy tale of sorts, as well as a hell of a musical experience thanks to the remarkable work of Macdonald who just kills. Everett, whose own cabaret act is much different, proves she has a great knack for classic smooth lilting jazz singing. Moriarty steals every scene she’s in, so much so that I wish we had more of her. First-time feature writer-director Geremy Jasper’s own musical background comes in handy here, delivering a movie born out of the “star is born” cliches only to be completely devoid of any of them.
In Cannes, the film got a 10-minute standing ovation with the French crowd at Directors’ Fortnight chanting “Patti Cake$! Patti Cake$! Patti Cake$!” when the cast came out at the end. In Sundance, Fox Searchlight paid nearly $10 million, one of the highest prices this year, and I can only hope their belief in it is validated and this word-of-mouth delight finds its audience. It is a tough road, but this film deserves to be a success.
Producers are Chris Columbus, Michael Gottwald, Dan Janvey, Noah Stahl, Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Rodrigo Teixeria. After a slower than expected box office start this weekend, Searchlight plans to expand into the fall in search of an audience sure to make this a cult hit — if not more.
Do you plan to see Patti Cake$? Let us know what you think.