Review: Dope

 

Dope is the story of Malcolm (Shameik Moore) a geek growing up in an Inglewood, CA neighborhood known as “The Bottoms”.  His two friends Jib (Grand Budapest Hotel’s Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) are also geeks. The three friends enjoy a list of non-black activities, practice their band songs in an empty classroom at lunch, and try not to get their bikes stolen on the way home from school. They’re kids born in the wrong generation from the way they dress to their taste in music.

The night before Malcolm’s Harvard interview, a local drug dealer named Dom (A$ap Rocky) invites him to his birthday party. Police raid the party and Dom places drugs and a gun in Malcolm’s backpack. The next day at school, Malcolm and his friends discover the package and are immediately thrust into an unlikely adventure. While being chased through the neighborhood by a gangster (played by Amin Joseph), they meet a cast of characters that includes, Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), a “tough” rich kid named Jaleel (Quincy Brown) and his crazy sister Lilly (Chanel Iman), high school bully Bug (Keith Stanfield), an a local businessman named Austin Jacoby (Roger Guenveur Smith).

It’s hard to believe this is Shameik Moore’s first lead role. He’s phenomenal from start to finish. Moore is charismatic onscreen when he needs to be, and incredibly shy when the story calls for that. He has all the making of a star. Even though Moore is flanked with other good actors like Revolori, Kravitz and Stanfield, he’s easily the stand out performer in this film. I know there’s still six months left in the year but Moore may have already delivered 2015’s breakout performance.

And who knew A$ap Rocky could act? He’s got great comedic timing and looked incredibly comfortable in front of the camera. It’s been a while since a rapper made the leap from music to movies – A$ap has a legitimate chance to make that leap and be successful.

Director/writer Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood, Brown Sugar) injects the right amount of humor with sharp/witty dialogue, well placed jokes, and fantastic comedic performances from Workaholics’ Blake Anderson and the rest of the supporting cast.  My friend Jayme pointed out a character in the film that you’ll recognize if you’re familiar with Famuyiwa’s other films. Once you see him, it’ll make his interactions even more hilarious.

Calling Dope a coming of age film is selling it short. It’s an original story that touches on multiple social issues. Yes, it is a coming of age story as well as a powerful look at the complexities that exist in tough neighborhoods like The Bottoms. It challenges how we view people who are fighting for a way out of those neighborhoods while still having to navigate them every day.

The soundtrack is perfect for any 90’s hip -hop head. It’s a trip down memory lane that’s also fitting for the film and the main characters’ journey.

Dope has the same California feeling as Boyz n the Hood mixed with the feel good high school hijinx of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The film’s originality stands out among a Summer movie landscape draped in sequels and retreads. Dope’s humor and social commentary makes it a film that accurately captures this generation of America’s youth. Dope offers much more than the trailers show – I hope people are open to what it has to say.

Grade: A+

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