Patti Cake$

(2.5 / 5)

It is not hard to have an opinion about rap music. Regardless if people are fans of West Coast or East Coast scenes or could care less about this art form, it is here to stay. Rap beatboxed its way into the modern cinematic world on soundtracks and it has even been the centrepiece of the drama as seen in everything from 8 Mile to Straight Outta Compton. It has been a generational anthem and been representative of a specific demographic of society, but rarely has a heavy-set Caucasian woman been the focal point of the drama. Patti Cake$ seems to epitomise everything that rap music has come to represent, the fight of the downtrodden to make it out of the ghetto and forcing their way onto the world stage with their bombastic words and hard-hitting music.

Patricia Dombrowski aka: Patti Cake$ or Killer P (Danielle Macdonald), has lived the life that is representative of many rap songs. As she cares for her sick grandmother and single mother in one of the rougher neighbourhoods of New Jersey, her dream is to escape the realities of her life. Besides working as a bartender in the local pub where dreams go to die, her hopes and thoughts revolve around rap music. With the help of her best friend and hype man, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), they look for opportunities in the local rap scene for the off chance they will find their big break. Even though she is discouraged at every turn by her mother and the gang in the neighbourhood, she finally reaches out to the reclusive musician, Bastard (Mamoudou Athie), to help her to find her musical voice and style. Then one night they finally get their break, but the question is whether they have what it takes to achieve their dreams and to escape life in Jersey.

To truly appreciate this film does not require a love for rap, but an understanding of the raw energy it takes to break free from life foregone conclusions. Patti Cake$ paints a bleak vision of life in New Jersey and that all things seem to be working against the central character ability to rise above this dreamless existence. Despite this unfiltered and raw depiction of Patti’s experience, director Geremy Jasper (Outlaws) manages to shed a ray of hope into the life this world of despair. The music provides the vehicle she and her friends jump in to drive out of this community and it is these relationships that become the fuel that keep the engine running. The connection between Patti, Jheri and Bastard make for an unassuming glimmer of promise for the film.

Australian actress Danielle MacDonald manages to carry the movie on her shoulders. This relatively unknown actress portrays the moodiness and anger needed to deliver the fiery lyrics that drive her love of rap. She successfully delivers a full range of emotions that take the audience through this personal journey. She shows that despite the challenges in life, she stays true to herself and keeps the faith that helps her to rise above her circumstances.
Patti Cake$ is planted deep within a viciously abrasive world and it will be difficult for some audiences to hear and see. From the moment she wakes up in the hopelessness of her family life to the nature of the streets, this movie is for the fan of the indie film that shows the realities of life without softening the blow. The language and lifestyles will cause many to pause on choosing this for their entertainment option, but it does have something to offer the cinematic and music world. Despite its rough exterior and verbal body blows, it does provide something for people with discerning taste and even a love for rap music.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

In a film like Patti Cake$, many could think that the bad outweighs the good in family life. The people we are raised with can bring out the best and worst in our lives. Parents, siblings and every other member of the family unit are aware of more about our history than we may care to know. They are the people who can remind us of our successes and our failures at the same moment, merely by being in the room. This can cause a bittersweetness in life and can be encouraging and painful at the same time.
Interestingly, the God of the Bible had the best of intentions for our home life from the beginning of time. The original goal was for families to live as a cohesive unit that works together by celebrating and utilising the various gifts that each member provides.
Even though this reality does not seem to be true in many people’s lives today, it does not mean that we can not try to reflect that reality now. Within this fallen existence, family members can strive to encourage each other. Encouraging each other when times are tough, cheering for our family when life is going well and speaking the truth into the lives of those we love with grace, love and mercy.


1. What is sacrificial love? (John 15:13, Ephesians 5:25)

2. Is life mysterious? (Colossians 2:1-3, Matthew 13:11-13)

3. Does God care about my dreams? (Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 16:3)

Trailer for the film (mature content included)

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.