From the start, Dope specifies itself literally with its definition and meaning, but that’s only the surface of this keen and discerning film about three high school nerds trying to survive in Inglewood, California. Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa applies old-school attitude and swag with young vitality and brainpower. His love for nostalgia is to behold and is the influential force in distinguishing its central characters along with their culture they embrace yet desperate to escape.
In a breakthrough role, Shameik Moore plays Malcolm, a flat-top rockin, Air Jordan wearin teenager destined to go from “The Bottoms” (nickname of the neighborhood he comes from) to Harvard. He fronts a punk band with his fellow best buddy misfits, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), all whom are growing up in the wrong era. Malcolm is summoned by gangsta Dom (A$AP Rocky) to fetch the hottest chick in the hood Nakia (Zoë Kravitz). But no so fast. Malcolm is crushing pretty hard over her as well. That’s why he finds himself at a club where Dom is throwing himself a birthday party, but when a shootout erupts, Malcolm finds Dom’s dope plus a gun in his backpack the next day at school. These geeks from the streets are about to get an education about the drug business.
Shit just got real.
Clemons is sensational as a feisty lesbian that never backs down and Revolori has already proven to be an exceptional young actor after starring in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Along with Moore, their rapport feels more than natural and undeniably energetic. The world they know is trying to tear them down, but they ride their bikes with vengeance never being satisfied with the hand they were dealt. Malcolm is our leader and Moore gives a prodigious performance that is affable, wide-eyed, and tough when necessary. He’s nothing short of refreshing and a blast to watch.
Malcolm, Jib and Diggy get called a lot of things and appear very different from everyone else. But wouldn’t you know, by the end, we totally identify with their vulnerabilities, interests and longing for something more. Famuyiwa has made a combination of a vibrant comedy and an acute drama about social presumptions. And while it’s certainly not flawless, it remains effective. Dope reeks of originality and coolness with an aberrant perspective making it a frenzied, funny experience unlike any other. There’s a line in the film and it holds true throughout: Don’t settle for what’s expected.
Yep. We just got served.