‘You’re gorgeous, you boss bitch.’ One of the first lines we hear from 23-year-old Patti (Danielle Macdonald) – an aspiring rapper stuck in the industrial, diner-filled and karaoke-ridden streets of New Jersey. We are instantly thrown into her dream world. From the intimate close-ups of her blurry-eyed morning face to her sneaker-feet as she levitates to the sky to the beat of the tunes from her walkman, we love her.
Up-and-coming indie director Geremy Jasper turns the premise of a plus-sized white girl trying to rap into an unexpected story of invisible poverty, loving your family even if they’re shit sometimes, and empowerment in the face of all kinds of discrimination. And he couldn’t have chosen a better cast to do it.
Danielle Macdonald’s debut performance as Patti is unforgettable. From being a first-time, Australian actor without any musical background to smashing out a Jersey accent, flawless raps and nuanced acting worthy of an Oscar – she never fails to impress. She portrays a beautifully complex and strong-willed persona, who is equally relatable as she is out of this world.
Patti’s pharmacist and fellow rapper bestie, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), and hardcore anarchist acquaintance, ‘Ba$terd’ (Mamoudou Athie), form an unlikely friendship. With the initially-hesitant accompaniment of Patti’s Nana (Cathy Moriarty), the four become ‘PBNJ’, New Jersey’s freshest underground hip-hop band. Geremy Jasper’s songwriting and lyric choices suit each of these characters perfectly – Patti’s fuck-everything attitude, Jheri’s daggy comedic value, and Nana’s brutal honesty.
Despite the ample amounts of fun that is had in this film, Jasper doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff. He isn’t scared of delving into how cut-throat-tough the music industry can be, how your heroes can disappoint you by being terrible humans, and how your looks, gender, and race can shape whether someone takes you seriously or not. It’s this sense of realism that brings the movie home. And we can see this in his honest dialogue choices and his portrayal of realistically complex human relationships.
This is heartbreakingly seen in the character of Patti’s failed musician, alcoholic mother, Barb (Bridget Everett). The scene that really spoke true to me about this mother-daughter relationship was the first time we hear Barb sing – at the sad karaoke bar that makes Transit Bar look like a fucking 5-star resort. From forcing her daughter to serve her free drinks, to opening her soul through the microphone, to finally ending up face-down in the toilets, there are so many levels of power play and unconditional love between Barb and Patti. It’s just so real that it’s refreshing.
What brings this whole film together is the music. Jasper takes us through all genres – R&B, hardcore rock, metal, blues, and, of course, all forms of hip-hop and rap. He connects all the unique personalities of New Jersey with their respective musical genre, and it adds a new layer of sensory understanding between us and the characters. The rhythm of this original soundtrack never stops. It plays with our imagination while simultaneously grounding us to reality.
The only thing that annoyed me about this film was the insistent use of extreme close-ups and that it was directed by a man. But the close-ups were mostly interesting, and I guess I can’t help that Geremy Jasper is a dude, so it’s fine. I came out of the cinema feeling inspired, empowered and super fucking badass.