“Am I a geek or a menace?”
A coming of age comedy/drama for the post hip hop generation. Malcolm is a geek, carefully surviving life in The Bottoms, a tough neighborhood in Inglewood, CA filled gangsters and drugs dealers, while juggling his senior year of college applications, interviews and the SAT. His dream is to attend Harvard. A chance invitation to a big underground party leads Malcolm and his friends into a, only in Los Angeles, gritty adventure filed with offbeat characters and bad choices. If Malcolm can persevere, he’ll go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.
The definition of a slippery slope is an idea or course of action which will lead to something unacceptable, wrong, or disastrous. This is the the overarching idea that drives the film Dope. A urbanized coming of age story for the modern geek era of teenagers, Dope is this generation’s John Hughes film. Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you combined Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Wood, City of God, and Boyz In The Hood? Well look no further than this little indie darling. Director Rick Famuyiwa has already garnered success with similar titles including the aforementioned The Wood, but Dope is his finest work without question. Creating a tale that is self aware and prominently heartfelt, without ever becoming preachy. The reverence for old school culture radiates off screen, allowing 90’s kids a chance to relive some of those glory days, and submitting the sensibilities of cult classic music and film to a new generation for approval. The hyperrealistic tone, and the backdrop of Inglewood assists in showcasing the films firm grasp on pop culture history producing a revelatory gravitas.
Dope is one of those generational epics that provides a narrative that somehow transcends the stereotypes it’s likely to be falsely labeled with. There will be a demographic that will avoid this film based preconceived notions regarding its cast and plot that are ignorantly obtained, shallowly, from its trailers and marketing. The people that avoid this film, thinking it’s a just a stripped down Tyler Perry schluck fest, will miss out on what could be the defining coming of age epic for millennial generation. A luxuriously boisterous and vivid tale of a group of teens that have found themselves in a “slippery slope” leading them down a treacherous path. What Dope manages to do is capture the pressures and perils of being a teeneager, and at times, a victim of environment and circumstance.
Dope is uniquely beautiful film in all the best ways. The setting is as lively as any of the characters as the backdrop of Inglewood gives the audience this beautiful yet terrifying stage, from the sun drenched streets and the palm trees,we get a dose of california living, from the bottom. More than anything else, the beauty here lies in the moments and the story. Everything about Dope is smart. From its characters to it’s story, the film never forsakes its audiences with doomed plot contrivances, instead we believe that all of the actions and reactions are genuine. The film has comedic undertones that allow its heavy subject matter to never weigh down on it’s audience.Best of all Dope is surprisingly brutally honest. It’s been a long time since a film has been able to aptly tow the line between preachy racial divider and informative cultural educator.
The performances are all incredibly subtle and poignant. Outside of Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons as Jib and Diggy are absolutely fantastic. Playing the sidekicks they never seem to settle for scenery and instead they are clear standouts in a film full of incredible performances. Rapper A$ap Rocky as Dom had every opportunity to ham it up, but is able to handle the street thug with deft precision and is at no point the weakest link. Keith Stanfield as the school bully Bug is astounding in his limited screen time and shares the film’s best exchange and most emotionally lifting moment in a standoff with Malcolm. The film’s weak link lies with Zoe Kravitz. The would be love interest to Malcolm, she plays a undetermined aged female with little to offer. The character was clearly written to be subtly complex, and there is little subtlety in her performance.
The relatability with Dope is what makes it so powerful. It’s an extraordinary intelligently written coming of age comedy with a different take on the high school geek story. Shameik Moore gives us one of the best performances of the year, gracefully teetering from one challenging situation to the next with a refreshing honesty. Dope is an incredibly written, powerfully directed piece of cinema, but the what brings the whole film together is easily the music. The score and the grouping of classic 90’s hip hop jams that mould perfectly to every situation gives the audience an unparalleled experience. There will be several stand out moments in this film that will resonate long after the theater is cleared. This is the type of film that will elicit conversation and debate. This is the type of film that educates and entertains, this is the type of film that becomes a generation definer just like the classic John Hughes films of the 80’s and the culturally significant hip hop inspired films of the 90’s. Dope is, inspirational, and diverse. Dope is brilliant. Dope is.. Dope.
4.8/5 Epic Bro