An Unlikely Rapper Chases Her Dream in ‘Patti Cake$’

Patti Cake$” is a fresh dramedy starring talented Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, who transforms herself to play Patti Dombrowski, a.k.a. Killa-P, a Jersey girl with big dreams of making it big in the rap game. This isn’t a far-fetched fantasy, as Patti is legitimately gifted when it comes to words and rhyming. Early on, she battles with local drug dealer Slaz (Patrick Brana), who refers to her as “White Precious,” a dig at her weight. Although Patti’s existence isn’t as bleak as that film character’s, she does use her imagination as a form of escape, picturing herself blinged out in flashy music videos.

A quintessential millennial, Patti works her behind off at menial jobs while pursuing her passion. A bartender at a local dive bar, she takes care of all the local drunks, including her own mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), a musician herself who attempts to revive her dreams of rock stardom by joining a band with her latest lover, a married cop. Despite their shared interest, the women aren’t exactly each other’s biggest supporters. “Why don’t you act your age?” Patti asks her mom right before she is about to perform at the bar in a revealing dress. “Why don’t you act your age?” Is Barb’s retort. Patti enjoys a warmer relationship with her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty of “Raging Bull” fame, who is almost unrecognizable here as a wheelchair-bound senior citizen), who not only encourages her granddaughter, but even helps her out by dropping a few beats. Predictably, the day comes when Nana needs Patti more than she needs her.

Also on Patti’s side is her best friend and collaborator, Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), who thinks the first step in their path to stardom is a show at a local strip club. Rounding out their rap group PBNJ is B (Mamoudou Athie), a mysterious musician who calls himself the Antichrist and lives adjacent to a cemetery. They make a CD, old school style, and sell it on the street. Patti takes a catering job, and in true millennial fashion, she must suck up to her tacky boss (Nick Sandow) to get a coveted position that involves being on her feet for hours at a time and taking out trash. The job does, however, put her in the path of some influential people, including Lil Wayne-wannabe O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah).

“Patti Cake$” is the feature debut of filmmaker Geremy Jasper, and he does not go easy on his heroine, as she experiences more downs than ups during her journey. At times, the film veers into melodrama territory, but Patti’s wicked rhymes, determination and pluck keep things moving, as Jasper finds that perfect balance between humor and human emotion. A highlight of the story is the unlikely bond between Patti and the oddly sexy graveyard dweller B, which is oddly tender. Macdonald proves herself to be amply talented when it comes to both comedy and drama, and will hopefully have a long career in front of her.

Patti Cake$” opens Aug. 18 in select theaters.