Certainly the hottest movie this summer and by far one of the best films this year, Dope feels relaxed and comfortable with its light comedic tone despite its setting, and what other “hood” films, like Boyz n the Hood have to say about life in the streets of L.A. However, the film does have its heavy moments where the nostalgic nineties and teenage wonder and adventure dissipate into the hard realization that the streets of Inglewood are a dangerous place – there is a looming violence and propensity for trouble, accentuated by the unpredictability of street life.
It’s not easy for three geek minority high school kids – between trying to get into college and not getting killed– but they find a way to live from day-to-day. They find solace in their tight knit circle and their love for 90s hip-hop and culture. This film is colorful in every definition of the word from its nostalgic appreciation of the 90s, the soundtrack, the language, and the cast—the crew comprises of an African American lesbian Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), Jib, a Latino (Tony Revolori), and the lead, the very talented Malcolm (Shameik Moore), who carries this movie from point A to B with such grace and ability I’m looking forward to seeing him grow and expand in future projects.
Malcolm is trying to get into Harvard, against all odds and his counselor doesn’t seem to have much hope for him. He’s just a kid from the hood and trouble lurks in every corner and it seems that there is no way to avoid getting his shoes stolen at school, to avoiding alleyways rife with gang members. Malcolm soon meets Dom (A$ap Rocky), a drug-dealer who has a thing for the beautiful Nakia (Zoe Kravitz), and so does Malcolm; he plays the middle-man inviting her to a party for Dom, which the trio end up at so Malcolm can hang with Nakia. When a drug transaction goes sour at the party, Malcolm ends up with the goods, and now he has to get rid of them.
Here’s when things start to get a bit strange, almost unbelievably so, taking the film on a sharp left turn. The second act gets wobbly and Malcolm seems to make bad choices that seem out of character from what we’ve seen. Nevertheless, the film continues to be funny and enjoyable but the final moments really uplifts and saves the film and rationalizes everything that Malcolm has done and becomes part of his journey and growth. Things get serious, posing hard questions to the audience that forces one to evaluate certain preconceived notions about being black in America. Malcolm has grown up and has come face-to-face with his future, hopefully as a minority that has escaped the dangers of the hood and goes on to do bigger and better things, but as the film posits such success comes with heavy baggage, as a Black or Latino.
But the streets have shaped Malcolm its part of who he is whether, he or we, like it or not. He’s smart, but he’s also street smart. There’s a powerful speech towards the end that’s simply executed in a magnificent way; the words flow with a poignancy and a tone of seriousness that makes sense and doesn’t seem arbitrary or forced. The cohesive style of the film continues to resonate even in this scene and everything comes together fluidly.
Dope is certainly that: dope, fresh, cool, legit, tight and much more. The film is a treat, with a solid script and a strong lead; a meaningful, and uplifting coming-of-age story with a powerful message about race in America, something that seems to be the zeitgeist of current race relations in the U.S. The film speaks a language of the streets understood by those that have lived it, but its values are universal and its lessons relevant. Dope a is funny, outrageous, smart, and poignant treat that should not be missed.