Patti Cake$, a story of big dreams and hip hop glory, introduces two major new talents, writer, director Geremy Jasper and star Danielle Macdonald. Together they present a gritty, sweet and quite unforgettable movie.
The Australian born Macdonald is Patricia Dombroski, a New Jersey wannabe rapper who, depending on her mood goes by Patti Cake$ or Killer P. She’s a walking, talking attitude in plus size clothes; a woman with a way with words and a dream of bettering her circumstances through hip hop. “Just to make myself clear,” she raps, “Get me the BLEEP outta here.”
“She wants to do what she loves to do,” says Macdonald, “but she kind of gets put in a box by society, by the people around her, by her mom even.”
Bringing the film to the screen was a three-year journey. Jasper wrote the script in just nineteen days to submit it to the Sundance Writer’s Lab in January 2014. After that, says Macdonald, there were many incarnations of the story.
“Sid [Siddharth Dhananjay] who plays Jheri and Bridget [Everett] who plays my mom and me all came on board at the Sundance Labs. After that Geremy said, ‘I want to use all these people. That’s what I picture.’ I think knowing we were in those roles and had already acted them probably helped him and influenced his writing.
“He would send me a script and if I would see a part I loved I’d say, ‘I love this, you better not change it.’ He didn’t. The first time he wrote the end scene the way it is, which is a rewrite from when we did the Labs, I was obsessed with it. I cried and I had read the script so many times.”
Perhaps it’s because Patti Cake$ is, in part, based on the director’s life that Patti’s attempts to claw herself out of her Dickensian existence feel so authentic. What begins as one rapper’s run-of-the-mill journey to get out from under the weight of her dreams snakes around to become a high-energy, fist-pumping story of overcoming odds with dignity and on your own terms.
Part of the film’s appeal are the raps that seem to effortlessly flow from Patti’s lips. They’re fresh, raw and most of all sound extemporaneous. “That’s good,” laughs Macdonald when I compliment her. “They were not. It took time and a lot of practice.”
“I learned the raps with the Jersey accent,” she says. “At that point I only knew how to rap them with a Jersey accent. That helped. If I had learned them another way and then had to change, it would have been way harder. When I got the raps I had to slow them down and put in the accent and then speed it all up because they’re tongue twisters basically. The accent is a whole different placement in your mouth and then learning how to rap is a whole new thing I was trying to figure out.”
Three years after first taking on the role Macdonald is done with the character. Almost.
“We shot the music video just last week so I wouldn’t say I have necessarily shed her skin,” she says. “I think that was actually the last time I’ll be Patti.”
What about if there is a sequel?
“Except for that!” she laughs.