Friday, June 19, 2015

DOPE Movie Review - Javi's Take

Director and Writer: Rick Famuyiwa.
Actors: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolorio, Kiersey Clemons, Zoe Kravitz, and A$AP Rocky.
Synopsis: A nerdy kid 

This review originally ran at Central Track

We're living at an interesting time where discussions about race, classism, privilege, and identity are all commonplace. As of the time of this review, the media is obsessed about the deranged Rachel Dolezal, who, despite being born Caucasian, "self-identifies" as African-American. Meanwhile police brutality is a highly publicized issue and millions of people of color struggle within society thanks to issues beyond the scope of this review. To say that this a complex time in race relations is an understatement.

DOPE explores a lot of these issues through the lens of Malcolm and his friends, Jib (Revolorio), and Diggy (Clemons). Their whole schtick is despite living in the L.A. neighborhood of Inglewood, they're obsessed with 90's hip-hop culture down to looking the part. They're also into "white kid sh t" like Game of Thrones, skateboarding, and Donald Glover. This causes them to be constantly picked on and berated by the rest of the kids at school for being "geeks." Though it's not all bad for them. The security guard never checks their bags, they can have band practice, and at least for Malcolm, they get really good grades to the point where Harvard is a very good possibility.

The basic plot is that Malcolm becomes friendly with a local dope (hey! that's the name of the movie) dealer named Dom (A$AP Rocky), who is throwing a birthday party. Now, this is not usually Malcolm's scene, but he is crushing on Dom's somewhat girlfriend, Nakia (Kravitz) so he has to go so he can dance with her. At the party, there's a shoot out, and Malcolm ends up with a huge stash of drugs and a gun in his backpack. So it's up to them to trio to get rid of the stash ASAP, and of course, they run into some crazy eccentric characters and situations along the way.

The movie's strength relies on its main trio and their relationship. They're all annoying slightly pretentious kids and talk a lot of shit (Malcolm calls The Blueprint a 90's album, what a casual!), but the way they joke around and hang out makes them really likable characters. Once the drama starts going down, you see the dynamics and how even though they go through some illegal deadly situations, they stick together.

Moore's performance as Malcolm is honestly one of the best of the year. His body language and facial expressions say so much about his personality as he increasingly gets himself in more and more situations out of his comfort zone. But he's also charming as hell, and the dude can play looks cool when he's playing guitar, plus his character is genuinely funny.

There are some slight tonal issues where the movie has some very violent and nude scenes throughout the movie that don't jive well with the mostly light-hearted and comedic tone of the rest of the movie. This is an issue that plagues the movie where it goes from being a goofy, albeit violent chase comedy that switches gears to becoming more serious. That's not to say that these two things can't go together, but the movie doesn't make a seamless transition.

Despite this, it's a smartly written movie. Although it's set in a dangerous neighborhood, you never truly feel like any bodily harm will come to the trio. But those are not the stakes the movie is dealing with. Instead, it draws its drama from the fact that if Malcolm, Jib, or Diggy get caught with the drugs, their entire life could get derailed despite their good grades and their ambitions to go to college. In that regard those are the biggest stakes for these kids as one mistake or miscalculation could ruin their entire life, and with that knowledge, there are some surprisingly tense scenes.

The movie's unique aspect is the way that it touches a lot on the issues of identity as it pertains to someone of color. As an immigrant myself, you always feel like you're straddling a line between your home country and your new home and their respective cultures. Not only that but as a nerdy Mexican kid, I was never quite fit in anywhere because I, too, was into "white kid shit" which wasn't cool for the Latino kids nor did I fit in with the "white kids". Damned if you, damned if you don't I guess. And it's a good thing this film exists because the positive message is a breath of fresh air that speaks to a subsection of colored kids out there.

Towards the end of the movie, there's a very powerful monologue by one of the characters that reminded me of Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator end speech.  It's not quite on the same caliber, and it spells out the themes of the movies a little too literally, but it was still a powerful statement that garnered the applause of the entire audience.

Dope was a nice surprise for a movie that seemed to be more of a gimmicky movie with the dumb tag line, "It's hard out here for a geek." Instead this is a well-written movie with an unique analysis about race and identity with a charming cast.

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