Director Rick Famuyiwa’s most recent movie is easily his best work. Dope is refreshing, fun, original, and well told from beginning to end. A coming of age story for a nerdy kid in a neighborhood best known for producing crime and thugs is as hilarious as it is important. The movie never feels heavy handed but delivers a heavy message that is important for everyone to hear. The message is never shoved down the audience’s throats but trickled into the story so perfectly it doesn’t really need attention called to it at all. A cast of talented actors fill up a neighborhood that no previous movie has given audiences cause to have affection for. The soundtrack is excellent from beginning to end and the tone of the entire film is pitch perfect throughout.
Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a nerd. He is computer savvy, well read, obsessed with 90’s rap, and his favorite show is Game of Thrones. Malcolm has aspirations to go to Harvard and the brain to back it up. Malcolm also lives in The Bottoms, a neighborhood with a telling name in Inglewood, CA. Because of where he lives Malcolm is seen by the outside world as only the worst stereotypes. Malcolm attends Dom’s (A$AP Rocky) birthday party to impress Dom’s girl, Nakia (Zoe Kravitz). While going after the local drug dealer’s girl may seem like the worst thing to happen to Malcolm during the course of the movie that is barely the start of his troubles. Unbeknownst to him, Malcolm ends up leaving the party with a backpack full of Molly and a handgun. Along with his two best friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) Malcolm has to stay true to himself while dealing with a situation way beyond his control.
Shameik Moore is a relative newcomer to the acting profession. He is a young talent that should be watched, he has the ability, charisma, and talent to do some amazing work in the entertainment world. Tony Revolori starred in last year’s critically acclaimed and award winning Grand Budapest hotel. Doing a movie so drastically different gave the young actor the chance to prove that the Wes Anderson movie was not a fluke. The character of Jib didn’t have the largest role in the film but Revolori’s attitude and comedic timing were perfect to balance the sometimes very serious subject matter. The third friend in the trio, played by Kiersey Clemons is also relatively new as an actress. She plays a gay character who tags along with the two teenage boys and fits into the group seamlessly. In this time of further acceptance and the growing publicity around the LGBT community her character was handled perfectly. She is funny at times, loyal throughout, but never there just to cash in on what’s popular on the news or overplayed in stereotypical ways.
The chemistry among the three leads was as flawless as their performances. The trio balanced perfectly. The script was refreshing in that the three friends never had the typical falling out moment just to make up in the final moments of the movie to save the day. The things they talked about were unique and interesting. They played off each other well and did a good time sharing the lead even though the story primarily follows the character of Malcolm. Zoe Kravitz is proving again and again that she is a fantastic actress. She is young but has been showing up in a lot of very high profile films. Dope isn’t as high profile as an installment or the Hunger Games or X-Men franchises but that doesn’t make it any less of a movie (quite the opposite really) and it doesn’t make her any less the actress. Blake Anderson, Bruce Beatty, Quincy Brown, A$AP, Chanel Iman, and the rest of the supporting cast are all strong additions to complete the world.
Writer/Director Famuyiwa doesn’t have an extensive resume but he has proven in Dope that he has put in his time behind a keyboard and behind a camera. Every character has a unique voice, a voice that is true to their character’s upbringing, education level, and motives. A big complaint in Hollywood is the whitewashing of the cast or that white writer’s write for other races without being able to capture their voice. Famuyiwa captures every character’s voice magnificently in a film populated almost entirely by non-white performers.
Like the main characters, Dope has a real sense of style. Instead of that style being early 90s hip hop the movie is well framed and well shot. Sunny California is captured perfectly, even in the streets of Inglewood. The camera puts the audience in the movie. Not in an obnoxious third person way but it does an excellent job of keeping the viewer engaged while still delivering the pertinent information. The editing is fun and a little unconventional at times. It is cleanly done as far as the main story goes and when it veers off slightly and used as a storytelling device it fits with the tone of the film, the soundtrack, and the general style set up early on.
Soundtrack is not something that usually catches my attention, unless it stands out. Dope’s entire soundtrack enhances the movie, the mood, the spirit of the characters, the importance of circumstance, and the pulse of the audience watching the events unfold. The sound track is pulled from multiple generations. It isn’t comprised entirely of hip hop which is surprising given the area the film takes place and Malcolm’s own love for rap. Malcolm, Diggy, and Jib have a punk band with an addicting sound and a few really well thought out songs (written by Pharrell) and, I believe, performed by the actor’s themselves.
Technology plays a huge part in this modern version of what an independent comedy used to be. While the look and half the soundtrack makes the movie look like it takes place in the late 80s or mid 90s, it is very 21st century. Cell phones and computers are the most obvious tools used but extensive talk of bitcoin, black market online sites, hacking, music recording, and even the internet’s obsession with videos and memes are all implemented perfectly organic. Some of the memes are real ear worms and hilarious even after the credits role. YouTube, and twitter are great story pieces to complete the teen 21st century feel in the 1990s looking movie.
If it isn’t clear after two pages of talking this movie up you should really go and see Dope. It is a great movie for any audience but in a time of racial strife in our country the message it delivers is powerfully stated without being hamfisted. The comedy is ripe, the jokes are timely, and the tech is realistically portrayed. The acting is as fantastic as the sound track. If none of that sells you, go and see a well written movie that doesn’t have a subtitle or roman numeral after it. I absolutely loved Mad Max, Jurassic World and Age of Ultron but the heart in Dope makes up for the lack of computer generated imagery by far.