Over the past several years, American cinema has brought us some of the best films in the coming of age genre. We had both The Way, Way Back and The Spectacular Now in 2013 and most recently, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl just a few short weeks ago. We are gifted with yet another one this month with Dope, directed by Rick Famuyiwa. As a viewer and a millennial, I found Dope to be very special and unique, setting itself apart from the aforementioned films above. It’s a melting pot of cinematic themes, thrown in with the ingredients of both past, and modern culture.
Taking place in the notoriously dangerous L.A. suburb of Inglewood, our protagonist, Malcolm (Shameik Moore), is a high school senior who praises the golden age of hip-hop, loves TV On The Radio and The Thermals, plays in a band, gets straight A’s, and sports the garb of the 90s. In essence, he is a geek. Along with Malcolm are his best friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori). The three are so unabashedly unique, that they belong to no high school clique, resulting in either ridicule, or an ass beating.
On a detour going home, Malcolm is introduced to Dom, a local drug dealer, portrayed by the ever-charming hip-hop artist ASAP Rocky. The two immediately bond through their shared knowledge of style and rap, resulting in Malcolm becoming a middleman of conversation between Dom, and the movies “it” girl, Nikia (Zoe Kravitz). Malcolm gets invited to Dom’s birthday party and this is when the trio gets tangled in dope.
During the party, a drug deal occurs between Dom and some associates, which is suddenly raided by gangs, drug dealers and cops. Dom, left choiceless under a barrage of bullets and incoming officers, has no choice but to put his drugs into Malcolm’s bag and flee. The following day the three find all the dope and they are presented with a question: how do we get rid of this?
Rick Famuyiwa does an excellent job in directing this movie, perhaps his best movie to date. His style of direction is very playful, bouncing from comedy, to action, to drama, with the occasional thrill. The blend of genres with the urban backdrop may seem overwhelming, but Famuyiwa eases you into the quickness with his style of direction, which ranges from quick cuts, slow motion and long takes. In the hands of a lesser director it could have become too heavy for viewers, but under Famuyiwa’s direction, you’re glued to the fun of it all. The direction is very appealing but it is the story that really sets the film apart.
As previously stated, the coming of age genre has hit its peak, especially in this generation of cinema and Dope has stood out in my eyes for two reasons. First: our protagonist is a young African American male who is exclusive in that he defies the stereotypes. Secondly: the use of culture and environment to set up a platform for the movie. The past, present and future of American Culture flow freely through Malcolm. He loves the 90’s (past), he has an endless amount of drugs he needs to get rid of (The dope represent present day drug culture. We are introduced to drugs very similar to ecstasy and the way it is sold in the film is exactly how The Silk Road operates today.) and wants to become a Harvard man (Malcolm’s journey to Harvard represents the future clashing between the past ideals of an Ivy League student to the current, more versatile and well rounded idea of a college student). The conclusion of the film really shows you what perhaps may be the functionality of American culture through the eyes of a minority.
Dope, is unrivaled at its genre through its well-versed standpoint. It’s an extremely fun and thought-provoking film that is truly memorable.