James Canellos ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
With all the reboots and re-imaginings being produced in the film industry, it gets very overwhelming. Figures in pop-culture that were considered original and fresh twenty years ago are now being brought back to life with a new twist. There’s a big difference between looking to the past for profit and inspiration. By celebrating the best of the 90’s hip hop music in modern day Inglewood, California, director Rick Famuyiwa creates one of the most lively beats to the “coming of age” genre with Dope.
Famuyiwa sets the film in his hometown of Inglewood, a.k.a. “The Bottoms”, surrounded by gangs and thugs. Malcolm (Shameik Moore) does his best to avoid all the mayhem, as he rides around “The Bottoms” with a flat top that would impress Christopher Reid, and wearing a vintage wardrobe that makes it look like he just walked off the set of a 90’s hip hop music video. Malcolm’s best friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) ride around Inglewood spending their free time applying for colleges, doing “shit white people like” and recording their own music in their band Oreo. As the deadline for Harvard University is coming faster then a Twista lyric, Malcolm needs to find a way to stand out without resorting to the cliche routine essays that he’s used to hearing. Malcolm’s hot streak of staying away from trouble comes to a halt after the neighborhood drug dealer, Dom (Rakim Mayers a.k.a. A$AP Rocky) smuggles drugs and a loaded gun in Malcolm’s backpack. Now it’s up to the trio to sell the drugs, not get killed, and try to get admitted to their desired colleges.
The stakes may escalate to over the top territory, but the film’s always grounded with a dark undertone that these life or death situations could easily happen to someone who comes from such a violent area. Dope times in at almost two hours, but it already might be in the running for one of the fastest paced films this year. Editor Lee Haugen leaves no stone unturned to make every scene feel like you just did a hit of the film’s newest “Molly” inspired drug. The film keeps evolving from a high school satire to an examination of drug dealing culture which equates to a fast beating heart that cannot be matched. Rick Famuyiwa’s dialogue is just as fast paced, introducing an ensemble of vibrant characters who add their own twist to each scene. Blake Anderson is particularly funny in his moments on screen, especially when he’s trying to debate why he should have the right to say a certain derogatory word.
It’s the Oreo trio that remain to be the film’s heart and soul. Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori are often very funny and give performances that reflect the crisp lines credited to Famuyiwa. The glue that holds this film together, however, is Shameik Moore who makes being a ‘Geek’ look so cool. Malcolm’s encyclopedic knowledge for hip hop music can only be matched by his amount of intelligence and grace. Even in the film’s final voice over, Moore’s voice offers a bittersweet tribute to modern racism in America, by just stating the facts and never preaching what he believes. This scene in particular is written as equally beautiful and heartbreaking. Famuyiwa doesn’t forget to show how, given the circumstances, someone as gentle as Malcolm could fall into the same statistic and become a part of Inglewood’s crime lifestyle.
Despite the fact that Famuyiwa never tries to avoid the reality of these character’s world Dope never loses its contagious sense of humor and always remains lively with its excellent soundtrack. There’s one original song in particular written by Pharrell Williams, “Can’t Bring Me Down” that will be stuck in viewers heads for a couple of days, but it perfectly captures the persona of Dope. The title asked for it, but it’s true: Dope is indeed dope.
Overall Grade: A-
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