Take a Drink: each time you find yourself dancing to the soundtrack
My personal favorite.
Take a Drink: for each stylish moment
Take a Drink: for each 90’s reference
Do a Shot: to the slippery slope
Do a Shot: each time a character uses drugs
Take a Drink: for each surprisingly genuine moment
Do a Shot: for ASAP Rocky
By: Matt Conway (Two Beers) –
The Sundance Film Festival has ironically become one of the esteemed yet despised film festivals. While each year the festival produces several big indies, like last year’s Whiplash, many call out the Festival for over-hyping releases and creating its own genre of films. The festival for the most part shows coming of age tales, which for better or worse show coming of age from a more unique aspect.
One of the most talked about films coming out of this year’s festival was Dope. Nominated for the coveted Grand Jury Prize, the early word on Dope promised an energetic coming of age flick from the fresh perspective of a geek growing up in the projects. While the festival has over-sold movies in the past, it seems like they properly represented Dope, as it’s a swagger-filled crowd-pleaser with a genuine heart.
Dope follows Malcolm, a 90’s hip hop geek growing up in the projects in Inglewood, who possesses the dream to attend Harvard. After a series of circumstances, Malcolm and his friends are forced into selling a drug package they are left with.
Dope truly has a distinct swagger to it, as its hip-hop infused style is one rarely seen in coming of age flicks. Director and writer Rick Famuyiwa is clearly quite knowledgeable about both 90’s hip hop culture along with life in the projects, and meshes both together with such ease. The soundtrack here is a fantastic assembly of 90’s hip hop, along with a few new jingles written by Pharrell. The song Can’t Bring Me Down especially gets across the films’ style, while also being instantly catchy.
In the director’s chair, Famuyiwa gets across a lot of the fast-paced energy of the music with stylish direction. He throws the kitchen sink stylistically, which creates an infectious sense of energy that the audience just can’t help but get caught up in. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison also deserves a great deal of credit, really making the slums of Inglewood feel a character of its own.
The cast here is quite good. Leading the way is Shameik Moore in what is his first major role, and he shows that he has a bright future ahead of him. Moore has a nature charisma as Malcolm, as audiences just gravitate towards his character. He nails showing the awkwardness of being a geek in this setting, but expands his performance as his character develops. For a first-time actor tasked with carrying a film on his shoulders, Moore delivers what is asked of him and then some.
Surrounding Moore is a talented supporting cast who does the most with what they are given. Tony Revolori and Kiersey Clemons essentially star alongside Moore as his best friends. In the wrong hands, the duo would be just the generic supporting friends, but both Clemons and Revolori insert a lot of personality into both roles. Much is being made about ASAP Rocky having a role in the film, and he is actually quite good. He has a natural presence on screen, and delivers on what is asked of him. Both Zoe Kravitz and Blake Anderson do good work with their limited roles as well.
Dope is honestly one of the funniest films of the year. Famuyiwa’s script features a good balance between raunchy humor and more quirky jokes, but all of them are done cleverly. The film never goes overboard with its raunchiness, which is often times the problem with comedies these days. Especially shining in the comedic moments is Anderson, whose offbeat persona makes him a natural. He steals just about every scene he is in.
While it’s often times funny, Dope also works quite well as a coming of age drama. The film often reminded me of a John Hughes film infused with hip-hop sensibilities. Famuyiwa tackles issues of growing up in general, such as finding your place and who you really are as a person; ideas that anyone can relate to. Despite being done to death, Famuyiwa makes Malcolm’s journey feel fresh and genuine.
Dope also tackles some thought-provoking themes about race and class in America today. Malcolm’s journey of escaping the bottom makes him face that despite who is and how smart he is, he can’t escape the stereotyping of being poor and growing up in the projects. Famuyiwa tackles the assumptions made about race and poverty, while showing how difficult it is to escape said notions. It’s quite timely and effective to see in a film.
Like a lot of films that come out of Sundance, Dope is a mess. Famuyiwa does a lot well both in the director’s chair and as the scribe, but has just too much going on. The film is tonally unsure of itself at times, trying to decide if it wants to be a serious exploration of life in the projects or a comedy about geeks dealing dope. While both are done well individually, the two at times clash.
The messiness in tone extends to the film’s length, which at times feels just too long. At 115 minutes, Dope feels like it could have been edited down substantially in a few places. This is very much the case in a few detours the film makes, including a visit to a drug dealer’s house and a black market dealer played by Kap G. While both moments have their fair share of laughs, they go on too long and don’t have that much importance to the story.
While Dope’s great energy is a strength most of the time, it also proves to be a weakness at points. In the second half especially, the film feels like it gets almost too preoccupied by its frenetic pace, so much so that it fails to slow down and continue to build the characters up. Side elements in the film that have a promising set-up such as Malcom’s relationship with a local girl Nakia feel like afterthoughts in the end, with the second half rarely having the time to slow down to address them.
Dope proves to live up to the hype that it received at Sundance. While messy and overlong, it’s an energetic crowd-pleaser with more on its mind than one would expect. Moore has a bright future ahead of him, as his star-making turn here will likely make him a hot commodity.