The way movies are distributed and advertised always fascinates me. Companies are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting movies such as the Transformers franchise, which will make a profit no matter how much it's advertised, yet they're not confident in advertising or distributing films such as Dope. When this film comes out in one week from today, it's going to hardly be seen by any of us here in Australia. Why? Because nobody knows it exists. The studio isn't confident in advertising it so that everybody knows of its existence and everybody wants to go see it. And everybody should go see it.
The film follows the story of Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two best friends, Jib (Tony Ravolori) and Lily (Kiersey Clemons). They're three straight A students with a passion for 90s culture. They're also in a band together. Their band hasn't really gone anywhere, but they enjoy themselves and to them, that's what matters. Trying to impress a girl named Nakia (Zoë Kravitz), Malcolm encourages Jib and Lily to come to a drug dealer's birthday party with him. They go, and everything's going great until an unexpected raid occurs and everybody flees, Malcolm ending up with a back full of drugs that he must now get rid of without being caught.
Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Dope is really something. It knows how strange it is and that makes it even more fascinating than it already is. There's a distinct style in the way Famuyiwa directs this movie and it thrives on the big screen. The film bounces around from scene to scene with a sort of funk that's hard to replicate. He's made a film truly unlike anything we've seen before. He has something very important to say and his voice is clearly heard.
Taking the lead role is Shameik Moore, his previous roles consisting mainly of one-off characters in little known television shows. He's an actor with very few roles under his belt, but he's full of potential. His performance in this movie is full of life, realism and energy, and I highly doubt that this is the last we've seen of him. His performance is raw and honest, but with just the right amount of fun, perfectly fitting in with the vibe of the entire film. He gets what the film is going for and he plays off of that.
His two best friends, played by Tony Ravolori, the secret weapon from last year's Grand Budapest Hotel, and Kiersey Clemons, also give damn good performances. While Ravolori is unable to top the absolutely wonderful performance in Budapest that he brought to our screens just last year, was that ever going to happen? It's hard to top a performance directed by Wes Anderson. In Dope, he honestly tries to top it, and he does manage to get so close. Alas, Budapest remains on top. But is that really a bad thing?
A huge element of this movie is the culture of the 90s. The three leads are infatuated with it, relishing every component of it, hip hop especially. This aspect of the movie, while only playing a minor part of the plot itself, feels so right in the context of things. It adds layers and personalities to these characters, proving them to be more than just your run of the mill teenage geeks. It gives them much needed depth and character, allowing this story to work as well as it does.
As I was watching this movie, I was really having a ball with it, but I was unsure of what it was trying to do. Don't get me wrong, it's a highly entertaining movie, even with a few hit or miss jokes, but it always felt like it wanted to say something. It wasn't. Then the ending happens and what do you know? It says something so unexpected and real that I was blown away by it. Its message is powerful and sticks with you, completely pulling the rug out from under you. I want to see this film again solely to view it through new eyes. It gives me a new perspective on the whole thing.
To sum up, Dope is a fresh, funky and extremely well done movie that's both hilarious and honest. It's a masterful effort from director Rick Famuyiwa with a powerful message that'll stick with you long after it's done.
3 1/2 Stars