The hit of the Sundance Film Festival, and a feature at the San Francisco Film Festival, “Patti Cake$” seems like it sprouted directly from the streets of New Jersey.
Opening Friday, the movie tells the story of superbad, plus-size rapper Patti (Danielle Macdonald), who dreams of making the big time.
“People at the screening thought that I grew up with her in Jersey and then I wrote this movie around her, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” says writer and director Geremy Jasper.
The truth is much harder to believe. In reality, Macdonald is from Australia, never rapped in her life, and can’t even carry a tune.
“I wish I could sing,” says Macdonald. “I love watching musicals. But I can’t hold a note. I’ve had singing lessons. It’s impossible.”
Moreover, Macdonald describes herself as totally without swagger. “I’m not cool. I’m weird,” she says. “I’m very clumsy. I trip all the time, so badly that I almost broke my ankle right before production. I was on crutches up until a few days before shooting.”
Macdonald worked amazingly hard, mastering a Jersey accent, studying a whole new way of moving and walking, and learning how to rap.
She not only nailed down the lyrics that Jasper wrote for the film, but also copied songs by Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, The Notorious B.I.G., and others, to discover what she could handle and what she couldn’t.
“I realized that Biggie was someone I needed to be listening to because he makes me feel like Patti,” she says. “My body language changes. He gives me confidence.”
Jasper says of his star, “She’s the hardest working person I’ve ever met.”
He knew from the moment he saw Macdonald’s photo that she was Patti. “I felt like I hit the lottery.”
Aside from casting, Jasper’s other challenges were also numerous. He credits the Sundance Labs with helping him shape the movie, adding that his first draft of the screenplay was “super insane.”
Inspired by the phantasmagoric films of Federico Fellini, as well as an early stint in the music industry, he says, “It was like 10 music videos strung together, just these bizarre vignettes.”
Aside from hip-hop and Fellini, the movie had one more major artistic inspiration.
“I wrote a ton of the film listening to Springsteen records,” he says. He was even able to include a Springsteen song in the final film, thanks to producer (and San Francisco resident) Chris Columbus.
Jasper says Springsteen hasn’t seen the movie yet, but is eager to make that happen. “I really, really wanna meet him!”
IF YOU GO
Starring Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, Cathy Moriarty
Written and directed by Geremy Jasper
Running time 1 hour, 48 minutes