Saturday, October 17, 2015

Film Review: Dope (2015)

Copyright: Open Road Films
It’s both strange and interesting to see that for the upcoming generation of teens, mainly those born in the late 90’s, the same decade is slowly becoming a part of an urban legend. Like the 80’s for those who are 10 or 15 years older, the time period that has passed since then allowed this decade to receive a shiny gloss that makes it look very appealing. Dope is not a film about the 90’s nostalgia, but the fact that it does include it as one of the main plot points shows that its creators and producers were able to recognize emerging trends. Fortunately, they didn’t ruthlessly exploit them but instead coated the bitterness of the film’s core message in an easily salable form.

It’s only when Dope is inside of our bellies that we recognize the grim topics it explores – mostly the rampart 2.0 racism that still dominates over the African-American and Latino communities in the biggest US cities. Its director Rick Famuyiwa is by no means a household name, but after this film, it is undoubted that he will receive plenty of exposures.

When it comes to his style and approach to troublesome social topics, he reminds me of a combination of a young Spike Lee and a more cheerful version of the young Darren Aronofsky. Throughout the Dope movie, the plot keeps unraveling and falling like a piano on top of a group of Inglewood nerdy kids who get into their possession a bag of MDMA and end up being chased or pressured by different criminal elements.

The main character of the group is Malcolm played really well by Shameik Moore, the de facto leader of the three-part gang. The three of them share good grades, no gang affiliation, love for the 90’s hip-hop and really bad but intentional fashion style. Moore translates both the comical confusion of his horny, but good-natured character, and also his seriousness about his place in the world, which is sadly shaped by his skin color and family background. Here, like in many of Spike Lee’s films, the theme of the film is a personal struggle within a man who must choose how to perceive a racist society – will he oppose it directly or try to work from the inside of the system.

Aside from these ideas, Dope 2015 has plenty of humor. In many ways, it is a sequel to Superbad, where kids from upper-middle class families have been replaced with ones from a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood. But still, the key points for the character remain the same – stay out of jail and have sex for the first time. All this takes place in a mayhem-infused environment, now a lot more impacted by things like Bitcoin and social media. And like the recent Inherent Vice, the film abundantly utilizes the location of Los Angeles, providing its story with plenty of gorgeous urban shots.

Dope is by no means a perfect film from a cinematic standpoint. Its use of narrating characters is unstable and a middle segment of the film begins to meander and disperse its energy. But it has a strong basic engine and it provides more than enough power for this coming of age comedy, set in a very real drama of a racially divided society.