Directed by Rick Famuyiwa
Malcolm is carefully surviving life in a tough neighborhood in Los Angeles while juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT. A chance invitation to an underground party leads him into an adventure that could allow him to go from being a geek, to being dope, to ultimately being himself.
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★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
an Inglewood mixtape of Risky Business, noir tropes, Tarantino verve & ‘90s hip-hop culture. electric but often misjudged.
and seriously, Zoe Kravitz, why won't you return my calls? is it because i'm too lazy to bother with your umlaut? i'm sorry, but a man has to draw a line. not two dots.
★★★½ review by Esteban Gonzalez on Letterboxd
“I'm from a poor, crime-filled neighborhood, raised by a single mother, don't know my dad, blah, blah. It's cliche.”
Writer and director Rick Famuyiwa delivers an energetic coming of age film that goes out of its way to avoid cliches. That is why despite having a familiar premise, the characters feel unique and are fun to hang around with. This film premiered at Sundance and it was well received thanks to Shameik Moore’s charismatic lead performance. It’s a feel good movie about a straight-A student who despite growing up in a poor neighborhood dreams of being accepted into Harvard. Malcolm also happens to have a punk band and hangs around his two best friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons). The three are geeks who happen to be fascinated with 90’s hip hop culture, but Famuyiwa writes these characters in such a way that they don’t feel like your typical geeks from high school. The three friends have a difficult time surviving their last year in high school, but things take an unexpected turn for them when a drug dealer named Dom (ASAP Rocky) invites them to his birthday party. A riot ensues later that night in the club and Dom hides the drugs in Malcolm’s backpack which will in turn unfold a chain of crazy events that will put his and his friends’ lives in danger. I know the premise might sound a bit familiar for a coming of age film, but the movie does avoid familiar cliches and ends up taking a life of its own. Not every scene works in this comedy and I was grossed out a couple of times (the Chanel Iman scene didn’t work for me), but there are some funny moments. There is one scene where Malcolm and his friends are having a conversation with their stoner buddy (played by Blake Anderson) about why white people can’t use the n word. The film also ends with the main character breaking the fourth wall and giving us a moral lecture about racism which many found to be a bit preachy and out of place, but I didn’t have an issue with it.
The things the film does get right is the energetic editing that keeps the pace of the film moving at a fun beat and the fantastic soundtrack from Pharell Williams. It’s hard not to enjoy a film that pays tribute to some of the 90’s pop culture references and there is even a scene where Dom’s character disses Malcolm and his friends for being overly excited about that era, so even if you weren’t a fan of the 90’s you can enjoy his rant about it. The film always has this feeling of being fresh and fun and Shameik Moore plays a huge role in doing so. His friends don’t get much character development and are only there to back him up at times or land a strong joke, but they have strong enough chemistry with Malcolm to give the film its energy. Forest Whitaker is the narrator and we get several interruptions during several moments in the movie to hear what he has to say. I don’t know if it was necessary, but it didn’t take away from the movie either. There is also a romantic relationship that is very loosely explored between Malcolm and Nakia (played by Zoe Kravitz), but it isn’t really a big part of the film. The entire film feels fresh because it’s very different from other coming of age films. As I mentioned before these aren’t the typical geeks we’ve seen in other films and Malcolm has a strong and charismatic personality that allows the story to rely on him. The script is witty and avoids falling into familiar stereotypes and that is why I enjoyed this comedy.
★★★½ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd
Stylishly directed, fabulously scripted, cleverly witted & riding high on a stellar performance from Shameik Moore, Dope is another quality product to come out from the indie landscape this year for it not only works as a thrilling comedy but also as an insightful coming of age drama that attempts to cut through the stereotype associated with the society it focuses on.
Dope tells the story of Malcolm; a high school senior who's wary of modern tech yet whose heart lies in the hip-hop culture of the 1990s. Surviving in a crime-laden neighbourhood, he is bullied in school for being a geek & dreams of going to Harvard but his ultimate ambition is put into jeopardy when he's inadvertently thrown into the drug-fuelled underworld of Los Angeles suburbs.
Written & directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Dope begins by presenting three definitions of its title and in the course of its runtime, it entwines all three of them in a highly interesting manner. Famuyiwa's direction is just as good as his writing and he does an excellent job in illustrating the difficulties an African-American faces to break out, not just from others but from his own community as well.
The technical aspects are brilliantly executed and further amplify the look & feel of the story with the dynamic camerawork, clever editing & fitting music but it's the characters who add a lively, zesty element to it. Leading from the front is Shameik Moore in a breakthrough role and his acting abilities are more n more exhibited as the plot progresses. And although he's the one who steals the show, the rest of the supporting cast is no slouch.
On an overall scale, Dope absolutely lives up to all three of its definitions, is an ingeniously crafted cinema that works solely on the strength of Famuyiwa's direction & screenplay plus is further elevated by committed inputs from its offbeat cast, and is able to deliver hilarious moments without swaying away from the point it wants to put across. A definite surprise of the year that's refreshing, entertaining & enlightening at the same time, Dope is absolutely deserving of a broader audience.
★★★★ review by Karl Hungus on Letterboxd
'I would not order a Macklemore CD. That wouldn't happen.'
Simply because I can't resist, I have to tell you one thing straightaway: Dope was dope! Sorry, I know, this line has been brought to you a few times already, but that's the most right adjective to describe this movie. It simply is dope! However, there are still a lot of other adjectives to describe this movie. You wanna hear 'em? Ok, here it comes:
Dope is funny, it's quirky, it's stylish, it's sensitive, it's gripping, it's clever, it's interesting, it's inventive, it's colourful, it's real, it's enjoyable, it's fascinating, it's exciting, it's refreshing, it's wonderful, and it's different.
By the way, it features the greatest soundtrack I have heard in the last few years. Brought the 90's back into my living room, guys! All in all, Dope is the hidden gem of 2015, and it needs to be seen by everybody out there.
P.S.: Zoë Kravitz, if you read this, please give me your number. I love you.
★★★★ review by Jason Ooi on Letterboxd
Dope is a new kind of coming of age story, which combines the general story of an outsider in a rough neighborhood with new technological innovations. It follows Malcolm and his two friends Diggy and Jib, geeks trying to get into a good college whilst manifesting a gang-infested, drug-plagued, neighborhood in Inglewood, California. It captures the dichotomy of their street lives trying to sell some cocaine that was accidentally thrust into their inexperienced hands, as well as their academic lives, as they try to get into the colleges of their dreams.
School ended for me yesterday, which means that I'm technically a senior in my Southern Californian high school now. I am not completely foreign to the modern application process; I've taken the SAT multiple times- I've pulled countless all-nighters studying for tests and APs, and I've been editing and rewriting drafts of my college essay since early April.
Maybe that is why Dope hits me so hard at home. While I cannot identify the true hardships of Malcolm's narcotics struggle, I can recognize the secondary, collegiate one- and imagining somebody having to deal with the two struggles simultaneously is just terrifying. The film exemplifies all of this hardship, however, while simultaneously being utterly hilarious. Some jokes miss, but enough hit for it to be a fun enough time.
Although, at times, this depiction of the difficulties of leading a double life that consists of getting street cred and actual scholastic credits does get battered in at times, it is creatively explored in a way that will undoubtedly connect to today's youth, utilizing memes, social media, and references to 4chan and reddit.
Now, on another note, the titular "dope" must also be referring to the soundtrack because damn, the film, produced by Pharrell Williams, and starring A$AP ROCKY does not disappoint on a lyrical note. Every song is absolutely perfect, and surprisingly immersive.
On the other hand, the acting in this film was quite the surprise. Shameik Moore displays the growth as well as the duality of Malcolm in a way that will make you laugh and feel. Tony Revoliri is amazing in everything, Blake Anderson is hilraious, and Kiersey Clemons is pretty amazing. Some of the actors, however, feel extremely out of place. Roger Smith, portraying a Harvard admissions officer moonlighting as a drug dealer comes off as awkward rather than menacing, and Keith Stanfield is absolutely wasted as a minor gangster.
Although Dope resonates with the vibe of a student-film, and its ending invokes the same sense of hip social commentary as a Sprite commercial, it is able to do a variety of things- think, laugh, and feel some semblance of emotion. It's not a perfect movie, but it is pretty dope.
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