Now available on Netflix the 2015 film ‘Dope’ offers viewers an energizing new look at the life of a young African American student growing up on the streets of Inglewood California. Produced by Forest Whitaker and executive produced by Pharrell Williams and Sean Combs, ‘Dope’ follows the accounts of high school senior Malcolm Adekanbi living in the drug infested neighborhood called “The Bottoms”. Life is hard enough, it’s even harder when you’re a geek. Malcolm is a highly intelligent young man whose best friends are Jib, who isn’t African American, played by “The Grand Budapest Hotel” star Tony Revolori, and lesbian Diggy, played by Kiersey Clemons. Malcolm has enough to worry about including his crush Nakia, the band he plays in with his friends, his SAT’s, his love of nineties hip hop culture, and his dreams of attending Harvard. To add to his worries, Malcolm finds a drug dealer has stashed high grade powdered Molly and a gun into his back pack during a police raid. Now Malcolm has to figure out a way to get rid of the drugs with out ruining his future.
Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, ‘Dope’ is an inspiring and hilarious look at teenage life. His characters are a humorous and engaging take on the social, economic, and internal workings of young adults. Characters react to events around them believably, both dramatically and ludicrously. It’s an original plot to follow putting a geeky outcast in the hood and it offers many challenging situations for the characters. Famuyiwa knows how teens think, and how they would act, and shows it though quick dialogue and reactions.
A problem with ‘Dope’ is there may be too many subplots to follow, and some that feel they didn’t need to be introduced at all. A narrator to the film feels very unnecessary and only voices some information once in a great while. Often in the film a funny scenario will develop and then forgotten about or resolved way to quickly, just to move onto the next one. Malcolm fawns over Nakia, played by Zoe Kravitz through the first part of the movie, then suddenly she just disappears through the rest of it, only to show up for a moment or two. A meeting with funny characters Lily, and Jaleel, while entertaining, doesn’t seem to add anything to the story and as expected are suddenly dropped out of the plot. If Famuyiwa had simply concentrated on the story of a geek trying to get into Harvard but gets stuck in a drug dealing situation, the film could have been near perfect. Too many unnecessary subplots are distracting.
Shameik Moore perfectly presents Malcolm as the outcast, a genius in the hood who is nervous, and like all teenagers, sex craved. He wants to do the right things but is pushed into a corner he needs to get out of. Playing a lesbian often mistaken for a boy, Kiersey Clemons as Diggy is spot on. Unfortunately, as problematic as her character’s lifestyle choice could be, there is very little for her character to do in the film. Tony Revolori, who showed amazing talent in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is wasted in this film. He delivers a few funny lines, but just seems miscast or out of place.
Overall ‘Dope’ is a tremendously refreshing screenplay put together impressively. The situations characters get into are comical and insanely believable. The film also offers a brilliant look at friendships among different types of people, and knowing you’re better than your situation. While parts of the film drag, sitting through them is well worth it thanks to the writing and acting ‘Dope’ displays on the screen.