dope-movie

You’ve got to admit, a lot of great things came out of the ’90s; from hip-hop’s most profitable and memorable era, the growth of the Internet and cultural awareness that continues to be widespread this day. Offering a break from the constant flow of sequels and romantic comedies, Dope, the third film in director Rick Famuyiwa’s series of odes to his native Inglewood, California has delivered a fresh spin on the familiar coming of age narrative. Its recent success has proven that this generation is hungry for their own narrative, and this film delivers.

It’s a film that made critics and some audiences alike uncomfortable, as the word “nigga” flies freely. It’s also a film that isn’t afraid to send a (not so subtle) message while offering a candid look into a new generation, cleverly addressing the “but why can’t I say the N-word” phenomenon and the dichotomy of how the world sees you versus how you see yourself. The tale follows high school senior Malcolm Adekanbi (brilliantly portrayed by newcomer Shameik Moore) a self-described geek with an affinity for 90’s hip-hop, casually blowing the stereotypical image of a troubled youth out of the water. A native of Inglewood, Malcolm is simply trying to leverage his straight-A record into a ride to Harvard University.

With friends Jib (Tony Revolori of The Grand Budapest Hotel) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) by his side, trio navigates through bullies, drug dealers and the streets before finally getting caught up in them by mistake. They also manage to play in a modern punk band Awreeoh (the band’s songs are featured in the equally impressive soundtrack). They don’t fit in, yet in truth they’re so lovable, that they don’t have to.

We witness Malcolm become a man over the course of a few weeks, as a simple errand for local dealer Dom (A$AP Rocky) somehow spirals into a drug deal gone bad that lands Dom in jail and Malcolm on the hook for the debt. Faced with the possibility of jail, death or the loss of his Harvard dreams, Malcolm hatches a plan to dispose of the molly via social media marketing and a tried and true 21st century piece of common currency in Bitcoin. Along the way he falls for Dom’s girlfriend (the beautiful Zoe Kravitz) as he finally begins to find his way in the world.

Famuyiwa’s storytelling in Dope differs from that of his 1999 cult classic, The Wood, yet some of the nods tie everything together. Stacey (De’aundre Bonds), the former antagonist of Mike and his friends while being protective of his younger sister re-appears as the high school security guard. Malcolm’s initial trouble all begins with a dance, just the same as a dance evolved the relationship between Mike and Alicia. Famuyiwa wants the audience to understand that the stories in Inglewood can intersect just as any other city. He wanted something meaningful by tying it all together.

And indeed it is. Dope plays like a bit of life: some action, plenty of comedy and drama tossed on the top. The fact it has earned over $11.7 million in its two weeks at the box office shows that it may be revered the same way as The Wood was, later on DVD or cable which is a shame. Dope deserves to be a film caught more than once. It’s not a colossal blockbuster but it offers something fresh and witty.

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