IN writer-director Geremy Jasper’s striking, infectiously uplifting feature debut we are introduced to Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald) in a dream sequence in which she imagines herself as an adored, dolled-up rapper showcased in emerald green lighting as she is introduced on stage by mega rap producer and personal idol O-Z (Sahr Ngaujah).

Then she wakes up in her rundown house in northern New Jersey where she lives with her stuck-in-a-rut singer mum Barb (real life cabaret singer Bridget Everett) and sickly Nana (Cathy Moriarty). She tends bar at the local dive and dreams of that flashy, successful life from which she so rudely gets awoken every morning.

But she’s not a wannabe be with no talent – far from it. Using stage names like Patti Cake$ and Killa P, she displays the kind of genuine flair for rap that most couldn’t fathom, a way with spitting words that has something to say about the truth of her life tinged with fanciful tangents and colourful turns of phrase. From the first moment we hear her music, we have no doubt she’s going places; it’s only a matter of how long it will take from standing in front of the mirror to commanding that big stage.

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It’s a joyous film to experience, so adept at exploring both downtrodden, gritty reality – looking after her ailing grandmother, dealing with her overbearing mother, scrambling for whatever money she can earn and letting the insulting “Dumbo” name-calling because of her weight bounce off her emotional armour – and what it means to dream and pursue that with everything you’ve got.

At the centre of its world and the piercing exemplification of its rock hard-meets-deeply empathic attitude is Patti herself and the wonderful performance by Aussie actress Macdonald. She imbues the eponymous character with just the right balance of tenacity, sincerity and vulnerability and performs the all-important, attention-grabbing rapping with ferocious authenticity. She’s quite comfortably one of the year’s best characters.

Structurally the film hits some familiar beats, from a will-they-won’t-they romance between Patti and newfound musical collaborator “Bastard” (Mamoudou Athie), clashing with her long-time friend and co-performer Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) and setbacks as she tries to push forward with her sought-after career as part of their idiosyncratic little group PBNJ.

And yet Jasper’s sure-handed direction and deft writing, belying his inexperience as a feature filmmaker, makes it anything but clichéd. The film feels fresh and alive, buzzing with artfulness and a sense of hope against despair, the idea of self-invention and self-made success even in the face of tough odds. And despite it being steeped in the art of it, you don’t have to be a fan of rap to like it; it’s all about one young woman’s devotion to and natural talent for it wrapped up in one seriously crowd-pleasing package.