I put a lot of pressure on Me and Earl and the Dying Girl to be the big, indie coming of age flick that broke through and became an audience favorite. If you read my review, you of course know that I was rather disappointed by the ultimate quality of the film and I overall felt it to feel somewhat artificial and unsuccessful. Here we are now and I guess you could call Dope round two of the potential big summer teen indie flicks. I guess they’re sort of the same if you replace the teenage girl dying of cancer with a backpack full of illegal narcotics. While Dope isn’t the best movie of the year (or even the best film to be released this week), it’s a charming, funny piece of entertainment that signifies something really exciting for everyone involved in years to come. This is definitely more of the film I had in mind when I was sighing during my experience with the previously mentioned film.
Dope is about Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a brilliant teenager living in a rougher area of Los Angeles. He ignores the drug violence and general corruption in his area by getting good grades, listening to 90’s hip hop and playing with his friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersay Clemons) in there punk rock band Awreeoh. He gets invited to a party by this mysterious girl named Nakia (Zoë Kravitz) living in his neighborhood. A crazy run in with a gang at the party leads to Malcolm waking up with a million dollars’ worth of drugs in his backpack. Over the course of a couple of weeks, Malcolm runs into several insane conundrums in an attempt to get rid of the drugs and escape jail time or possibly even murder.
Is it possible for me to recommend a film highly simply because it’s just a really, really fun movie? I can go into giant analysis of everything like I did for my Inside Out review or I can simply tell you that this is definitely one of the most entertaining times I’ve had in a theater this year. It’s amazing that despite the movie’s low budget, they were able to film this project that manages the whole package in terms of what everyone wants out of the summer movie season. Does it have a young, relatable main character with a performance by a great up and coming actor? Check. Does it have a thrilling story line with some really cool action scenes? Check. Does it have an awesome sense of humor? Check. Finally, is the soundtrack scientifically proven to kick ass? Check. This movie is the type of film you go see on a really hot day in July if you want some time to cool down in a theater. If director Rick Famuyiwa was able to do all of this with such a small budget, I can’t imagine what would happen if you were to give this guy a larger budget. Dope is one of those films where everything about it feels so fresh and fast paced and it gets so much done and achieves quite a lot in such a short amount of time.
Part of the magic of the film is in the great, young cast Famuyiwa was able to get for this movie. Tony Revolori was great in The Grand Budapest Hotel as the lead Zero but I wasn’t totally sure if he would be the kind of actor who would be able to continue his career after that high point. With Dope, I am certain now that this is a guy we have to be looking out for in future roles. He’s really funny throughout and the type of part he plays here is so different from what he does in The Grand Budapest Hotel that I can now tell that this a guy that can take on a wide variety of roles with success. I was equally impressed with the work of Kiersay Clemons as Malcolm’s tomboy friend Diggy. There should be more characters in mainstream cinema that represent women like Diggy and the part she plays to the story is really refreshing after having just watched the embarrassingly pathetic female lead of the terrible failure that is Jurassic World (I may or may not get to that review later on). Blake Anderson of Workaholics fame is also really good here as Will, the stoned out hacker who Malcolm gets to help them sell the drugs online. Roger Guenvuer Smith also plays a great part as the films intimidating king pin who constantly keeps the main character fearing for his life.
The great standout here though is by far the performance of Shameik Mooreas Malcolm. A quick IMDB search points out that this is the first big performance of his career and this is a great start to what I hope will be a great future filmography. This guy has all the things needed to be the next big breakout star. He’s funny and confident, he hits all the dramatic points successfully and through all of this I can see this guy doing extremely well with a big performance in a summer action blockbuster or something. There are some young adult indie actors who I see that I think are great but I can’t see them doing something that has a big budget or not a drama. I can’t imagine seeing Paul Dano or Tim Heidecker being the lead in something like a Mission Impossible film. Moore shows charisma and talent in Dope that matches and even sometimes goes beyond the charm you would expect in your in lead in something from Marvel or a Transformers movie. I really hope there are people out there watching this who consider him to be in something of a larger scale because after watching this I believe he can do that.
As I said before, this movies screenplay packs everything into it and for the most part it’s really successful. It’s this complex, crime thriller that goes behind the scenes of the strange, new ways drug dealers are able to sell without getting caught through the internet. It’s this insane, Tarantino inspired dark comedy about a man being forced into this crazy, over the top series of moments. And through everything that’s happening from stoned dealers to cocaine driven public urination to these well shot car chases, it still manages to be this thoughtful coming of age film.
There’s a lot of discussion not just about this guy being worried about what will happen to him in future but also about the way he deals with race on a day to day basis. Both in terms of this crazy storyline and his own everyday life in Los Angeles, he is trying to find a way to survive in this harsh climate while staying on the right, successful path. What does Malcolm need to do to feel safe while still being able to remain true to this idea of the perfect student that can move on to a brighter future? Where is the point where his own attempts to remain safe keep him from experiencing something much more exciting and fun? Through the giant thriller storyline going on, I was impressed how this film was still able to tackle these subjects in a way that was down to earth and honest. A lot of these questions pay off in this intense scene near the end where Malcolm confronts these students who have been bullying him the entire movie as well as this scene where he is writing this big essay to get accepted into some large college.
If I had any problems with the movie, it would be that I thought the ending could’ve carried a larger impact. I know the full point of the movie wasn’t to end with a giant shoot out or anything but I think I would’ve liked this film a little bit more if it concluded with a bigger bang than what it ended up with. It starts off really crazy but as it goes on it gets less and less over the top and it starts to become more deeply focused on Malcolm’s reflection on what his future will be. It did this area really well but I would’ve liked the final scenes to be able to further juggle doing both aspects at the same time.
The first thing this reminded me of walking out was of a modern update of Risky Business. I hope this movie can find the audience that that film was able to receive as a thrilling yet natural teen film. Dope features a cool, breakthrough lead performance from Shameik Moore and in 2 hours it manages to mix together a lot of different movie genres, finding mostly success in all it aims to be. Not to mention everything is going on under this killer soundtrack that has everything from A Tribe Called Quest to some great original songs to Gil Scot Heron to of all things…Korn. It’s a shame Dope comes out the same weekend of one of the best blockbusters in years but if you get the chance to see two movies this weekend, you should definitely make this refreshing dark comedy your 2nd film to look for with Inside Out.
Review by: Ryan M.
Release Date: 6/19/2015
Cast: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, Tony Revolori and Shameik Moore
Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa
Screenplay by: Rick Famuyiwa