Coming-of-age / high-school movies usually fall into two categories: there’s the meaningful, pensive sincerity of films like The Breakfast Club and The Perks of Being a Wallflower; and then there’s the bawdy childish fart-filled comedies like Superbad and Animal House.
Dope, the new film by Rick Famuyiwa (haven’t heard of him either), is somehow both, maybe neither, but definitely one of the best films out this year.
Dope follows Malcolm, a modern-day 90s hip-hop nostalgia nerd (we all know one), who lives in the rough neighbourhood of an already rough town, Inglewood, California. Inadvertently, after attending a drug-dealer’s birthday party, Malcolm and his two best friends must protect – and later sell – a sizeable stash of drugs (‘dope’, if you will).
The problem with the Dope pitch is that it probably sounds like a subplot on The Wire . People will picture a grey-filtered flick, in which crime and dust mingle in the poverty-ridden streets, and you must use your wits to survive this urban jungle. But, as Malcolm points out, that’s a cliché. This film aims higher.
Dope is hilarious without feeling flimsy and dramatic, and certainly without ever feeling heavy. It has a tone so unique that each second is worth savouring. It feels real and lived in. While other films are set in anonymous cities, there’s a genuine sense here that the director and lead actors could tell you exactly where to go and not go in what’s referred to as ‘The Bottoms.’
The fact that Malcolm is constantly asked ‘Who are you?’ to which he only provides a perfunctory answer of ‘Just Malcolm’ should hint at what the film’s overarching message is. Towards the very end, Dope offers the audience a moment of profound complexity, with Malcolm breaking the forth wall. But even during these minutes the film never slacks off or slows down. It’s furiously cut, with constant changes in locations and shot-size. It’s a welcome surprise for an indie film to have mainstream sensibilities.
Also, don’t worry White Folk: simply because this film stars a black cast (with a notable exception of the excellent Blake Anderson from Workaholics) doesn’t mean that at some stage they’ll all join hands and sing gospel music. In fact, there’s an excellent scene in which that exact black iconography is cleverly and amusingly subverted.
A parting word for the cast, who are universally – from the leads to the bit parts – fantastic in every way. Even though most of the cast are actually musicians of some sort, not one feels out of place. I doubt any of them are currently on any rich list (like Taylor Lautner), but they’re moving and real and not once do they make me want to rip out my own eyeballs (like Taylor Lautner).
So, if your therapist has failed you and you’re here for some advice: Go see Dope. Give these filmmakers your money so that they’ll make more films like this.
A film that defines a generation; hilarious, moving, fast and, simply put, excellent.
By Rían Smith
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