Can there be anything about life in high school, particularly life in a high school in the hood, audiences haven't already seen? Well, maybe there is for a little bit of it turns up in ''Dope,'' an appealing teenage comedy with something of a fresh perspective on the subject.
“Dope” follows a punk rock-loving ambitious black nerd called Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore) who dreams of going to Harvard University. Raised by a single mom (Kimberly Elise) after his Nigerian father fled back to Africa, they live in “The Bottoms” of Los Angeles, AKA Inglewood, California. Despite his surroundings, he resists stereotypes. He gets straight A's and is a “self-identified” geek obsessed with ’90s hip hop and plays in a punk-rock band called Awreeoh along with his best buddies Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons). A tomboy who likes to dress like her male counterparts, Diggy, we learn in the first few scenes, is a “self-identified” lesbian while Jib, who is clearly of Indian descent, feels he’s justified in using the n-word because he’s 14% African. They like all types of music (throwback hip hop, rock, blues) enjoy riding bikes and doing sporty things and are all carefully surviving life in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood and an equally tough high school.
(Left to right) Tony Revolori as Jib, Kiersey Clemons as Diggy
and Shameik Moore as Malcolm in DOPE - Photo credit Rachel Morrison.
Malcolm has a crush on the neighborhood hottie Nakia (Zoë Kravitz) who he feels is clearly out of his league. When he bumps into the local drug dealer Dom (A$AP Rocky), he inadvertently, along with his buddies, gets invited to Dom’s birthday party. Hoping to snag a dance with Nakia he instead gets lumbered with Dom’s stash of party drugs (Molly) after a backroom drug deal goes bad. From jail, Dom instructs him and his pals to give the “Molly” to its rightful owner, Harvard alum-turned-drug kingpin Austin Jacoby (Roger Guenveur Smith). But instead of accepting the delivery, Jacoby gives them an ultimatum: move the weight and pay him in cash in the next few weeks—or else.
The film is loaded with a slew of talent who are effective and believable and all the young actors are relaxed, funny and natural. The movie's real scene-stealer is Moore who comes across as smart, funny, and relatable with his collection of “Yo! MTV Raps” cassette tapes to his high-top haircut. There are several other characters interspersed throughout the film, including Jacoby’s sexy wacked-out daughter Lily (Chanel Iman), her cocky brother Jaleel (Quincy Brown) and the stoned hacker Will (Blake Anderson) who they enlist to help them sell “Molly” through a black-market website. There’s a particularly funny scene where the white Will argues about using the infamous n-word as freely as a young black male. The dialogue is sharp and the soundtrack rock, pop and hip-hop-heavy thanks to Oscar-nominated songwriter-producer-performer Pharrell Williams who not only wrote and produced the songs performed in the film, but also serves as executive-producer.
That said, “Dope” is not a perfect film. Famuyiwa (“The Wood”) often struggles to find a balance between drama and silly humor and could easily have shaved off a few minutes from its 1hr. 55 minute running time especially as it’s at least an hour in before the plot takes off.
(Left to right) Kiersey Clemons as Diggy, Shameik Moore as Malcolm, and Tony Revolori as Jib. - Photo credit Rachel Morrison.
Still, these are very minuscule flaws as the beauty of this film is that it doesn't shy away from dealing with serious issues such as violence, drugs, homosexuality and feminism with brutal honesty. It's also funny in its handling of subjects that are so touchy such as stereotypes and race.
While teensploitation movies thrive just on juvenilia, sex jokes, and nudity, this film is character-based and character-driven. "Dope" is a movie with new faces, fresh voices and inspired insights sprinkled with genuine laughs and is certainly one of the smartest, funniest, most perceptive satires I’ve seen in a long time.
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