Editor’s note: In these trying times, we have tried to focus our coverage primarily on the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. That being said, we also know that people are working their hardest to recover and to help those displaced by flooding and may need to take a break. Check out our piece on the new film “Patti Cake$” if you need a respite from the stress, anxiety and volunteer efforts of this week.
“Shakespeare was a rapper, Bob Dylan was a rapper, John Lennon was a rapper,” says writer/director Geremy Jasper to Free Press Houston in a phone interview. Jasper’s debut film Patti Cake$ follows an unlikely heroine who dreams of becoming a rap star despite a nowhere life in a generic New Jersey town.
Jasper himself has been performing since he was ten-years old and composed many of the songs heard in the movie. An Australian actress with no former musical experience, Danielle Macdonald absolutely nails the character of Patti, from the New Jersey accent to her singing chops.
Patti Cake$ operates on many levels. On one hand it’s a story of outcasts. Patti, pleasantly plump and living with her single mom and ailing grandmother, lives for the day she and her friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) can perform their original music to live crowds.
In the meantime, Patti and Barb hook up with Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), even more of a loner who lives in a shack in the woods that he has converted into an intricate sound studio.
On the other hand, Patti Cake$ spins an emotional tale of mother-daughter bonding with a resilience that few films capture.
Patti’s mom Barb (played with vigor by Bridget Everett, herself the lead singer of a popular New York City band The Tender Moments) is at odds with her daughter. Barb saw her own dreams of becoming a rock goddess crash and burn and now fronts an average cover band when she’s not drinking her life away. Patti finds one of her mom’s old LPs in the trash and takes one of the songs and breathes new life into it with a rap arrangement.
In one of Patti Cake$’s many moving sequences Barb attend a talent contest where Patti is performing said song and comes up to the stage to sing the chorus with her daughter.
“It was something I struggled with,” Jasper says. “At the core this film is about their relationship. About nine drafts in I finally cracked it. But then I was wondering if it was too sentimental, if it’s going to feel right. When you have actors as real and as committed as Bridget and Danielle, who are soulfully connected in real life, it just works. We filmed this concert in Brooklyn. Other rappers played all day and then it was our time. There were 200 people and it was like a real show. We shot the scene you mention several times and after every performance it was so fucking emotional, people were crying.”
“It was real in that room when we shot it, we didn’t have to fabricate anything, which was pretty amazing,” concludes Jasper.
In addition to featuring many songs written and produced by Jasper and Jason Binnick, the film closes with “The Time That Never Was,” a song recorded by Bruce Springsteen for The River sessions but not released until 2024.
Patti Cake$ is currently playing at a handful of Houston theaters including the Edwards Grand Palace, The AlamoDrafthouse Mason Park and the AMC Studio 30.