Director Rick Famuyiwa has made something pretty special. He’s combined the ’90’s hip-hop scene and spirit, taken some of the darkness from the film’s genre predecessors and turned it on its head to be a full fledged comedy. The final product is Dope, a film that’s genuinely funny, makes a statement, and has a flavor all its own, which includes a great soundtrack, a fantastic cast, and a wonderful and slick script.
Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a senior high school student growing up Inglewood, California. Otherwise known as the Blood neighborhood. Growing up with a single mother in an underprivileged and violent neighborhood, Malcolm and his friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) are ultimate geeks because they’re uncommonly into things like the ’90s hip-hop scene (which they’ve modeled their entire look and sound after), manga, band camp (their band is called Oreo), and making good grades.
But after Malcolm is invited to a party hosted by a local drug dealer named Dom (Rakim Mayers), he and his friends get in way over their heads when they inadvertently become involved with Dom and his drug dealings, caught between two gangs. Their lives hang in the balance as they wind up getting deeper and deeper into the drug underworld and have no clue how to get themselves out, but they have to or all of their hard work to get into college and live violence-free lives is out the window.
There are so many things to like about Dope that I don’t even know where to start. The writing, for one, is wonderful. The script is, for the most part, fairly tight, the plot intricate but never confusing, and it manages to tie in everything mentioned early on or at some point in the film and brings it back full circle. There’s never a dull moment as the film is paced well, only lagging a little bit near the end of its stretch with some scenes. But this doesn’t deter at all from the film, which provides so much for everyone.
The use of music is fantastic. If you’re into the old-school hip-hop music and the look and feel of the ’90s, then you’ll most definitely enjoy the music and look of this film. And speaking of the ’90s, the really funny part of this film is that if you never saw a cell phone or any sort of modern technology, you’d really think that you were watching something straight out of the ’90s, especially since the lead cast looks they, as one of the other characters points out, “came out of the Delorian”.
The film is essentially a comedy, but that doesn’t stop it from getting a tad bit dark at some points, only to bring back the humor moments later. Director Rick Famuyiwa is able to balance all these bad things that happen within this neighborhood with a blatant sense of humor to keep things light, yet serious. Famuyiwa also makes a big statement about kids living in underprivileged neighborhoods whom no one expects anything from. Like I said, it’s a comedy first and foremost, but there’s a lot more depth hidden between the layers of its words.
The cast really makes the film all the more better. Shameikh Moore as Malcolm really fills his portrayal with energy, fun, and is serious when the role requires this of him. He really speaks to the audience through his actions. He’s only been involved in a few other projects, but this is most definitely his breakout role. Great work and honest portrayal. Kiersey Clemons is expressive and proves she can hold her own alongside her co-stars. She’s feisty and doesn’t let anything get to her. And then of course, there’s Tony Revolori, who’s definitely found something within the genre of comedy. He’s the worry wart of the group, who’s always speaking up out loud about how bad every idea is. The group dynamic is wonderful and they all really fit in well together. Zoe Kravitz has a minor role, but she most definitely makes the most of it.
Dope is the kind of film you walk out feeling glad you watched. It has so much energy, flair, and great characters. It harkens back to the greatness of the ’90s and its hip-hop scene and uses this to the film’s advantage. Near the end, the film lags a bit because the plot gets to be a bit too much as its coming together, but this doesn’t stop the film from smoothing out its edges and finding a way to bring everything together in the end. Dope is memorable, funny, and has a touch of seriousness that’s just enough without turning it into a drama. A film everyone should see.
Sundance Release Date: January 24, 2015 | Director and Screenwriter: Rick Famuyiwa | Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Zoe Kravitz, Forest Whitaker, Chanel Iman, Blake Anderson, Rakim Mayers | Genre: Comedy