June 23, 2015

Movie Review: Dope (2015)

Some movies like to sneak up on you and surprise you when you least expect it. It can be a pretty great feeling, can't it? Think about all of those movies you saw that you did not have any expectations for or even knew anything about beforehand. When the credits role, you sit there contemplating what it is you just saw. Well, I just experienced one of those movies. Dope is a really good, almost great, film that blends reality with an easier to digest fantasy to make its point, a point that is spelled out in the final moments, if you did not get it earlier, or rather, gave it a punctuation point. It is funny, dramatic, and genuine.

The film was written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, who also wrote and directed The Wood. What he has made here is an interesting look into the life of someone trying to avoid the pitfalls of his location, and the expectations of his life, as defined by the outside looking in. It is a movie that feels real, while also having its edges rounded off somewhat for added mainstream appeal. Basically, this is not a hard, from the streets sort of movie. It certainly has those elements, but in order to help its purpose, it chose to sand them down. It is not a bad thing, although it might hurt overall authenticity, but sometimes it is best to have a little fantasy mixed with reality.

The movie centers on Malcolm (Shamiek Moore), a nerd, a straight A student, into rock and punk music, and a student of 90's hip hop culture. He is an outsider by any stretch of the imagination, and his friends do not fall far from the tree, Jib (Tony Revolori), and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons). Malcolm has dreams, he wants to go to Harvard, he wants to better himself, his situation, and he has the drive to do it. Of course, life has a way of throwing a curve and changing life's path, obstacles to overcome and avoid that oh so easy slippery slope of external expectation.

The movie sets up Malcolm and his friends as low rungs on the food chain, position that could easily lead one to get into drug dealing with the locals. Malcolm doesn't see it that way, but a chance encounter with said dealer and a young woman, Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), that he has had a crush on, leads to an invitation to a drug dealers birthday party. Of course, that party ends in a police raid. Now, you know when you are at an airport and they tell you never to let your bags out of your sight? Same thing applies at a night club drug dealer birthday party.

Malcolm finds himself in the possession of a gun and a good deal of drugs, stashed by the birthday boy before he got caught. What follows is a comedic and dangerous journey as the friends have to figure out who they can trust and how they can get rid of this stuff. It is not something Malcolm wants to do, it opens the door to that slippery slope if you are not careful.

Dope is all about that slippery slope, about avoiding it, about rising above it, about defying expectations. It is a movie about race and what is expected of you based on where you come from, generalizations, stereotypes, and all of that stuff. It is a movie about proving to yourself that you are more than a product of the environment. Plus, it has some pretty funny moments.

It is not a perfect film. I think an argument could be made that the edges are softened a bit too much, that the journey into the cyberworld of black market sites and bitcoin is a bit much. It could be said to lack focus in that regard. You could also see the issues with the supporting cast. While Malcolm is a fascinating character to follow, his friends are just sort of there, potentially interesting but completely non-essential. They are used to add color to the film, add in a few more voices.

Still, there is no denying that Dope is an impactful movie. Whether you like it or not, it is a movie that will give you something to think about. Now, the ending, the punctuation mark, if you will, seems to leave people divided. I think it all has to do with perspective. I think it is meant to be directed at the audience, even if the context places it within the frames of the film. It is a good moment and finishes off a solid story with a very good character.

I like Dope (the movie) a lot. Flaws and all. I think the flaws/shortcomings add that softening fantasy element that could point to them being on purpose as a way to encourage dialogue as opposed to sharpening the hard edges and polarizing the audience. However you look at it, I thought it was really quite good.

Highly Recommended.

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Thomas Watson said...

Dope is an under-the-radar gem that deserves to be a smash hit.

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