“Dope” – Review
‘Dope” is a drama comedy produced by Academy Award winning actor Forrest Whitaker and Sean ‘Puff Daddy “Combs, with original music by Pharrell Williams. The film was a huge hit and a critically acclaimed favorite at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival with the audiences there telling the modern story about a high school senior named “Malcolm” played by new comer Shameik Moore.
From the onset we see Malcolm with the support of his mother and two close friends has taken great care of managing his life away from drugs, teenage pregnancy and crime all the while navigating the daily perils of basic life in a tough neighborhood and school life in Los Angeles.
Malcolm is a geek and generally confident and proud about his geeky perception, which is visually reinforced by his antiquated look in the form of a high flat top haircut. He makes the most of his days by always doing the right things and has a genuine earnestness to himself. And while he has an odd quirky affinity for old 1980’s early 1990’s rap hip hop music, Malcolm is a decent kid, juggling college applications, academic interviews and the upcoming SAT test with the working hard goal of getting into Harvard.
One day while trying to get home on his bike with his two close friends he has a chance encounter on a street corner with a personable drug dealer who asks him to do him a favor. He asks Malcolm to go to a young lady’s home down the street named “Nakia” (Zoe Kravitz) to invite her to his underground birthday party which Malcolm reluctantly does. Later that same night when Malcolm, his two friends and eventually Nakia all arrive at the party, all is well until masked gunmen come crashing to the party with guns blazing on the tip that the drug dealer birthday boy has 6 kilos of drugs at the party club. What happens next leads Malcolm and friends on an adventure that could allow him to go from being a dismissive geek to someone very cool, someone who goes to jail or someone who could be dead.
PROS: In the beginning of the film a scrawl comes across the screen to give three standard definitions of what the word “Dope” means in the dictionary and with that moment the film metaphorically lays the frame work of how it will develop its story as a comedy with dramatic moments throughout. The director wants these characters to be seen not as stereotypes but as real human beings prone to making both serious decisions as well as silly and comical ones. But whatever course of actions they take they do so with the appearance of being real life decisions that are true, sincere with authentic vulnerabilities and consequences at stake and with the right mix of humor blended in for our cinematic viewing ride.
It also makes a great effort with its screenplay to be both funny and smart simultaneously all the while rooted to the generational unique ways teenagers communicate with each other but never so cryptic as not to be understood by any generation watching this film.
The cast of young actors in this film have real credibility from the opening scene as they execute their characters uniquely developed personalities with crisp sharpness and wit, along with some verbal exchanges between them that were simply hilarious.
CONS: The director has made a very good film that works for most of its 1:55 running time, but there were a few scenes that didn’t work for me. The first involved a woman who had a weird personality that manifested itself with an always being naked obsession. It also didn't help she was not a very good actresses as well. The other scene involved the initial meeting between Malcolm and his Harvard mentor. Their dialog in the meeting seemed to be by design was meant to be a bit cryptic and mysterious. But from my view point I thought it was a bit too mysterious and too clever to its own detriment. In essence I knew what was happening here, but listening to their exchange with each other I wasn’t absolutely sure what the two were actually trying to convey to one another.
Finally, if you hate the “N” word, then stay at home. It’s in the film a lot, but uses it within the context of natural conversation. There was also a moment where the word came up as a focal point of debate executed with a mix of seriousness and humor about its usage as a matter of social acceptance or not. Bottom line, this is not a criticism of the film by me, rather I am letting every know it is in the movie often and was used by the director (my estimation) to make the film feel it was honest and “keeping it real.”
CONCLUSIONS: "Dope" is currently and probably permanently in limited release. Still it is a must see film for 2015 as it will remind you structurally as a mix of Tom Cruise’s “Risky Business”, Ice Cube’s “Friday” and Matthew Broderick’s “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. It makes clever fun of itself, fun of the environment of which these characters reside in and fun at the circumstances that sometimes befall on them that often were not of their own making. It also works hard to talk about modern big city African American life while adroitly being anti-stereotype about the culture as a whole. In addition it deals honestly with the anxieties and complexities of the inner city and its day to day intended - unintended offerings, especially for young teens that don’t always get their stories told in thought provoking books, edgy newspaper stories or the six o’clock news. And while it has some story line hiccups along the way, “Dope” is a vibrant, freewheeling, funny and forceful film that is both entertaining and very believable.
3 – 3/4 Stars