MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Dope’ Is A Fittingly Titled Teen Masterpiece

Film: Dope
Starring: Shameik Moore, A$AP Rocky
Directed By: Rick Famuyiwa

Every year audiences are given numerous coming-of-age tales based around themes of self-discovery and love, but what ever happened to growing up in response to the stupid decisions we make when we’re young? Dope, the latest feature from writer/director Rick Famuyiwa, has the answer.

Malcolm is a promising young teen growing up in a rough neighborhood who, along with his two equally nerdy best friends, has a punk band and dresses as if he fell out of an early ’90s hip-hop video. Every decision Malcolm has made up to the point we first meet him has been with his future in mind. He wants to get out of the rough area he’s always known and into the Ivy League, but he would be lying if he told you he did not also want to fall in love and be considered cool, or at the very least be cool enough to not get bullied by jerks at his school.

On the day we first meet Malcolm he makes the poor decision to relay a message between a local drug dealer and the girl he admires. This leads Malcolm and his friends to a private party they are far too young to be attending and, following an unexpected police presence at the event, the trio are thrust into one of the most complicated and difficult situations of their still young lives. I won’t spoil the twist here, but suffice to say it’s a familiar premise that is used in a truly unique and original way.

It would have been incredibly easy for Rick Famuyiwa to tell a story we’ve heard a thousand times before when developing Dope, but after the The Wood and Brown Sugar, he appears to have wanted to challenge himself as much as the audience with something a bit left of center. Once Malcolm and his friends understand the circumstances surrounding them in the aftermath of the party, Dope begins to transform from typical coming-of-age tale to a message-based story of overcoming adversity and learning to see the world as something more than black and white. The color of Malcolm’s skin shouldn’t matter to the viewer, but Famuyiwa knows it still does, and he uses the pre-conceived notions of how black teens act as a way to poke fun at stereotypes without losing track of his narrative. Like Dear White People did in 2014, this film manages to convey thought-provoking social commentary without sacrificing engaging narrative.

In addition to offering an original and compelling narrative, Dope is littered with brilliant performances that linger in the mind long after the final line of credits has rolled. Shameik Moore, who portrays Malcolm, seems destined to become Hollywood’s next go-to actor for all new future teen-centric projects. Like Michael B. Jordan with Fruitvale Station or Miles Teller with Spectacular Now, Moore has used this role to showcase every bit of talent he possesses. The strong supporting cast, notably led by A$AP Rocky, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori, deserve praise as well.

By combining modern filmmaking techniques with familiar teen movie tropes, Rick Famuyiwa has created a coming-of-age masterpiece with Dope that will no doubt stand the test of time. It’s a movie for anyone who has ever wondered if it was okay to simply be themselves, and it encourages everyone who sees it to do whatever they must to embrace the person they were always meant to be. It’s a fun, unexpected burst of creativity amidst a summer run amuck with sequels and destruction porn. Don’t miss it.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell
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