When I asked a friend to join us in seeing a movie about a female rapper, she thought I said ” female rabbit”. The real smile may come from our star, the energized rapper in a bunny rabbit coat! Prepare to be moved by this coming of age and coming to success story. Australian actress, Danielle McDonald is Patricia Dumbrowski, aka Killa P, Dumbo and more, aka everything. In her early twenties, she works in a New Jersey karaoke dive and dreams the celebrity dream.
In fact, a dream begins “Patti Cake$” . We see images superimposed on Emerald City green: diamond mouth grills, a bejeweled performance by rapper Oz, and then a nightmarish fall by Patti into the orchestra pit. Reality has us in Patti’s messy bedroom picking herself up to practice rhyming with her toothpaste-filled mouth in front of the bathroom mirror. Her day begins, and the beats pump us up.
Patti has lots of responsibilities. She is not a slacker. She contributes to her mother’s rent and food needs and looks after gramma, who is wheel-chair bound , often in front of “Judge Judy”. The montage of images of a gritty New Jersey settle in . Overhead shots, baby pictures, all set the stage in a lively way. Patricia Dubrowski rises feet off the ground and soars air born down her street, metaphorically lifting herself out of her situation. We are hooked!
We soon meet Hareesh ( Siddharth Dhananjay ) , a young Indian pharmacy worker, who is Patti’s best friend and beat- giver. Comedy is mixed with the pharmacist’s reprimand that ” he can play make-believe on his lunch break”. Patti and Hareesh are twenty-three and feel that they ” ain’t done shit”. Their rap sessions easily slide into competition with “put-downs” galore. They meet a reclusive, off-the-grid, musical semi-mute, played beautifully by Mamoudou Athie. He has his own sad story, but supports Patti against the ” culture vulture” claims of her critics. “Act your race” is one of Patti’s alcoholic mother’s taunts.
“You have more talent and more imagination than anyone is this whole town combined” is the rather cliched support that our no-longer-mute Athie gives. Yet, the debut-director and writer Geremy Jasper gives us a fresh story with tension and sub-stories and peanut-butter-and jelly-on-white-bread performances to stick in our crawls long after the beats’ tempo slows. This is a modern, suburban underdog tale with lots of bark and sweetness.