23 year old New Jersey native Patricia ‘Patti Cake$’ Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) dreams of becoming a rapper and worships local hero and rap guru O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah), hoping that she’ll become his latest protégé. Along with her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), local Goth loner Bob (Mamoudou Athie) and her ailing but snarky grandmother, Nana (Cathy Moriarty) she records a demo she hopes will change her life whilst working bar jobs to help pay for Nana’s medical bills and appease her alcoholic mother, Barb (Bridget Everett).
Opening with a dream sequence where Patti is performing for an adoring crowd, supported by her mentor O-Z, we cut to the rather drab nature of her reality. Her modest bedroom is a bit of a mess and she’s looking after both her sick Nana and the antagonistic good-time girl Barb. But Patti is an optimist and with the support of the eternally enthusiastic Jheri her creative juices flow, the pair achieving an easy partnership. Once she convinces the painfully quiet Bob in his ramshackle studio/home on the outskirts of their local cemetery to join them, the trio discover their own unique sound with Nana contributing some hilariously gruff vocals.
Amidst the fun lies some unsavory fat-shaming courtesy of an unpleasant rap battle showdown and the thorny subject of cultural appropriation from her own mother who cannot understand why her daughter would want to be rapper. As a woman whose own dreams of stardom were dashed she’s reluctant to support her daughter’s passion, scoffing at her choice of genre: “That’s not real music…” and generally screwing up her own life. But Patti is no victim and gives as good as she gets from all comers, emerging on top just by virtue of her feisty spirit.
Macdonald turns in a revelatory performance as the sweet and sassy Patti aka Killer P, her easy chemistry with Moriaty and Dhananjay in particular are a joy to watch, while Everett is no villain, her unsupportive Barb has the necessary sad backstory of shattered dreams and missed opportunity to make her understandably unimpressed by the idea of Patti attempting the same path.
Writer/Director Geremy Jasper just about avoids cliché with his hip-hop tale of self-belief and represents the mother/daughter dynamic well, ultimately creating a tale of joy and female empowerment without preaching or manipulating our emotions. And frankly any film that resurrects Lita Ford’s little known 80’s hair metal classic, Kiss Me Deadly, is a winner.
The charming yet familiar material is elevated by a star-making performance by Danielle Macdonald in what is an ultimately triumphant lesson in following ones dreams. An impossible to resist treat.