The coming-of-age genre is one of my personal favorites. Maybe it’s my age or just the emo, anti-cynic side of me, but movies like Almost Famous, The Breakfast Club, Risky Business, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower are tried and true classics– the chicken soup for the soul realness. DOPE, from writer/director Rick Famuyiwa, does a great job of fitting nicely into the genre and is an embarrassment of likeable qualities. It lives up to the positive definition of its title by strength of a believable and insanely likeable cast, its fresh but 90’s vintage style, and a mix of serious and whimsy that keeps things from getting too oppressive or too precious. Most of all DOPE is worth your time for Shameik Moore, who lifts the entire flick playing Malcolm – a self-professed geek who wants to get good grades, go to college, dress like a 90’s hip-hop star, and one day lose his virginity. Moore’s style and performance make a massive impression, and you get the sense Malcolm has the chance to reach cult status for generations to come.
Set in current day Inglewood, Los Angeles, this is your classic set up of a trio of misfits living in a community where they’re bullied for being different, but strong in their commitment to what they love and each other. Malcolm and his crew (awesomely played by Tony Revolori of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Kiersey Clemons) get involved in a nightclub shootout, and end up with a brick of Molly. This isn’t their bag, but in the age of Bitcoins, Snapchat, and ‘The Dark Web’ the geek is king. The snappy and swift film follows the trio as they navigate a drug shipping ring from within their high school chemistry lab, apply to college, party, and try to evade the real gangstas looking to get their dope back.
The movie’s got filmic flair for days, has a bumping soundtrack, and packs a heavy and heartfelt social message by the end. It fails to reach the status of the aforementioned classics, as there’s sometimes a feeling of going through the motions and not ‘going for it’ enough times. It also has a somewhat strange attitude when it’s not being cute and fun. There’s violence and drug dealing, but all of it comes across as both harmless and inconsequential. I’m no prude, and a lot of movies like this do all kinds of crazy shit- but they’re either to create a dramatic effect or leave you rolling on the floor. Here, the moments where it earns its R-rating feel like boxes being checked off. I’m sure Famuyiwa has his reasons, but I couldn’t get fully behind the feeling.
DOPE premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival with the producing power of Forest Whitaker, Pharrell, and Puff Daddy. It instantly started a bidding war over rights to release. And it went on to win the Audience Award at the festival. All of this is easy to see why. Any studio bidding thought they had a seminal coming-of-age film that would appeal to the hood, the hipsters, the geeks and that good word of mouth and great reviews would keep it bounding on. Theatrically DOPE didn’t set the world on fire but DOPE’s time has come. It’s a prime choice for rental or Blu-ray purchase- the type of movie you want to watch with a group of friends, have a good time, and maybe learn something about the world along the way. You know, growing up stuff.
Get your copy of DOPE now on Blu-ray. You won't regret it.