Directed and written by Rick Famuyiwa
Stars Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Dope, directed and written by Rick Famuyiwa, is a film about expectations clashing with reality and the unintended consequences of our actions. I was expecting something light hearted, funny, raunchy — and at times Dope is all of these things — but above all else, Dope is real as hell.
Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a young, black, ’90s nerd from the bottoms of Inglewood. His daily life can be described much like that of any other nerdy boy trying to survive high school, with the exception that his bullies are Bloods. Eager to shed the cowl of nerdhood for one night, Jib (Tony Revolori), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), and Malcolm agree to go to a drug dealer’s birthday party. Their hopes for the evening are dashed soon after arriving when gunfire breaks out, forcing the trio back into the city and their normal lives. Unbeknownst to Malcolm, ecstasy was hidden in his backpack, along with a gun. Through a series of events beyond his control and a corrupt college interviewer, Malcolm is forced to sell the drugs or risk losing his chances for college. That’s right, in order to get into college, Malcolm needs to sell drugs.
As absurd as the storyline may seem, when you watch it play out, it’s depressingly logical. Malcolm has aspirations of Harvard and a life far from the bottoms, but getting out seems impossible. The adult figures in Malcolm’s life think he’s arrogant rather than driven, entitled because he wants something better than the rest of them have. Dope speaks to following your dreams, despite the haters, without coming off like an after school special. The flawless intertwining of social media and internet culture is woven throughout the film gives it an element of authenticity for the younger generation, which in turn makes the characters more believable.
Much of Dope’s successful humor comes from watching these three quirky, cultural outsiders slam into the reality of living in a slum like the bottoms. They may find themselves at the bad end of numerous situations throughout the film, but they’re never surprised by it. As out of the loop as Malcolm, Jib and Diggy may seem, this is still their home and not much surprises them.
The soundtrack for Dope is pure fire, playing foundational ’90s hip hop, as well as music written for the movie by Pharrell, which brought the film to the next level. The color palette of the set is radiant in combination with Malcolm’s colorful, 90’s style clothing, subtly pushing him into focus despite the busy city streets. The bottoms as a setting makes this movie live, never is the backdrop idle or boring. If your eyes happen to stray, for a moment, from the main characters of the plot, there is always something happening around them. It speaks to the chaos of their situation, the impossibility of being able to think their way out of their predicaments.
Dope is a film that brings on an even deeper meaning after the credits have rolled, it’s a film that you’re meant to talk about. There are a lot of difficult questions you have to ask yourself. How do you reconcile the fact that Malcolm’s possible future successes were founded on the selling of drugs? What choices could Malcolm have made to stop the slippery slope from unfolding? Did he do it just to get out of a bad situation or, à la Breaking Bad, did he do it for himself — because he enjoyed it? As you watch him become more and more willing to use violence as a solution for his problems throughout the film, you worry that you’re about to watch the evolution of a good kid gone bad.
Overall, Dope is a smart, earnest film that makes you laugh while it makes you think and a must see movie this summer.