Written by: Julia Siegel
In January, Sundance Film Festival’s breakout hit was none other than New Jersey-based film Patti Cake$. With breakout performances, great music, and an inspirational story, Patti Cake$ may be one of the best independent films of the year. The story is truly about New Jersey, as the director, Geremy Jasper, is also a native. Jasper makes his directorial debut with his script that captures the essence of New Jersey while delivering a film that perfectly displays his love of music and filmmaking.
Patti Cake$, at its core, is a story that a lot of New Jersey kids can relate to. Patti Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) wants nothing more than to escape her hometown in Northeast Jersey and make it big as a rapper. However, no one takes her seriously, or has ever given her a chance to shine. There’s an obstacle at every turn for Patti, who must also support her useless mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), and sickly grandmother (Cathy Moriarty). Her only friends, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and Bob (Mamoudou Athie), support her dream by forming an unlikely hip hop group to get noticed.
While the musical undertones might not make you think of New Jersey, the locations and family struggles definitely represent the state. I’m sure that Northern Jersey audiences will appreciate the several diner and pizzeria scenes, as it is part of the culture. The way that the topic of family is dealt with and depicted screamed New Jersey to me. Jasper put little touches within the script to make sure that the film could not have taken place anywhere else, and it does make sense for Patti Cake$ to be a New Jersey story. His lyrics also describe inner-city life and its struggles, which was fun to hear.
The songs are also catchy, well-written, and amazingly produced. As someone who usually doesn’t care for hip hop or rap music, I really enjoyed all of the music in the film. Its clever and witty lyrics are one of the standouts of the film. Macdonald is clearly the biggest standout, as she gives a fantastic, breakout performance in her first leading role. Her emotion, attitude, and rap game were all excellent. I wouldn’t be surprised if Macdonald finds another leading role very soon. I also really enjoyed Dhananjay’s performance as the crazy best friend. His eccentric performance balanced Patti’s uncertainty well, which helped to keep the film fresh.
As a whole, Patti Cake$ is a really enjoyable film that brings together great music, a talented cast, and emotional storytelling. It’s a strong first feature for Jasper, who deserves a lot of praise for creating this masterpiece. The breakout performances were pleasantly surprising and made the film much stronger. With a very successful film festival circuit run so far, I have no doubt that Patti Cake$ will take the independent box office by storm when it is slowly gets released throughout the country this summer by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Patti Cake$ will start its theatrical run in New York City and Los Angeles on July 7th.