Movie Review: Dope (2015)

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Rating: B/ Puppy dog-eyed Shameik Moore plays geeky urban teen Malcolm, who lives in the Bottoms of Inglewood, California, where crime and desperation reign. With a setting like this, you’d expect Dope to be a depressing movie, but it’s not. It’s actually a very funny movie; not perfect by a long shot, but with some of the funniest, zaniest dialogue to come around in years. Malcolm is obsessed with 90’s Hip-Hop culture and plans to go to college, which makes him very uncool with the kids in his hood, who mostly end up joining gangs and dying young and never expect anything more of themselves.

Malcolm’s best friends are small and loudmouthed Jib (Tony Revolori) and spirited, fiercely loyal lesbian Diggy (Kiersey Clemons,) whose ‘pray away the gay’ church get togethers are doing little to cure her identity as a young gay woman. Malcolm is basically a good kid and tries to stay out of trouble, but when he befriends a local drug dealer (Rakim Mayers) and falls head over heels with a beautiful girl (Zoe Kravitz) he is thrust into the adventure of a life time and does some morally questionable things in pursuit of his dream of college.

For a kid who’s stayed away from drugs and gangs his whole life, Malcolm’s sudden status as a dealer of the club drug ‘Molly’ is equal parts baffling and exhilarating. But in pursuing a life of crime, Malcolm loses sight of who he is and his aspirations and must question his  priorities and the direction his life has taken.

My main criticism of Dope is that it will appear dated in twenty years or so. Some movies are absolutely timeless and hold up with the passage of years; this is not one of them. Memes, Youtube, Twerking, and iphones are all present in this movie, things that will probably be forgotten within a short span of time (one can only hope that Twerking will be dead and gone  by 2020.) Some viewers will also be disconcerted by the fact that Malcolm gets rewarded for making all the wrong decisions and for all intents and purposes making a mess of his life. Would things have turned out so well for Malcolm if he had just stayed on the straight path? The jury’s out on that.

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Another issue I have with this movie is that the message about race is not applied with a lot of grace and subtlety. It’s a relevant take-away, but the way director Rick Fumuyiwa is offers it up to the audience at the end is kind of like, in your face! However, the best thing about Dope is the writing. There’s plenty of laughs to be had with the zany characters and the crazy circumstances Malcolm finds himself in. The characters are sympathetic and memorable, even the gangsters and dealers have their moments.

The writer obviously has a gift for creating dialogue that will leave the viewer in stitches, for instance, the main characters’ discussion with white slacker/stoner/hacker Will Sherwood (Blake Anderson) about who is allowed to use the ‘n’ word. During this conversation we realize that no, it’s probably never acceptable to use the ‘n’ word, but you’re much less likely to get your ass kicked if you’re a black guy (or gal.) Dope has a great sense of irony and dark humor that propels it through it’s murkier aspects.

Even the whitest, most sheltered person ever will find something to laugh about and relate to, the comedy is that accessible. Dope has a sense of humor about itself and people like me can just laugh and be thankful that my neighborhood is nothing like the Bottoms. My family might talk about how our neighborhood is crap because dogs run loose at will and the police get called on our neighbors more than we would like, but at least we won’t get gunned down ordering take out.

The great thing about Dope is that comedy and tragedy are combined seamlessly; you’ll be be aware of the sadness that lingers behind the picture’s multitude of laughs, but you’ll guffawing too hard to feel too badly about the tragic elements. For  smart comedy (as opposed to the latest Adam Sandler shitfest) you can’t go wrong with Dope.

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