dir. Rick Famuyiwa
written by: Rick Famuyiwa
starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, A$ap Rocky
3.25 out of 4 stars
Yet another Sundance premiere, Dope is a story with a message and profound humor. A story of growing up different in a rough part of Los Angeles, this story follows three 90’s hip-hop obsessed high school students: Malcolm, Jib, and Diggy. All excellent students aspiring to higher education, they face the constant hindrance of crime and violence in their neighborhoods. A less than fortuitous party invitation turned drug bust leads these “geeks” to trying to avoid the fate of many of their cohorts.
Writer-director (furthering my assertion that this was the theme of Sundance this year) Rick Famuyiwa, known for his movies focusing on different aspects of African American life, has produced his most affecting film yet. His former credits for movies such as Brown Sugar and The Wood have been successful films targeting the underserved African American community, but I have never found his movies to hold particular impact on a personal level despite quality filmmaking. This movie shows growth. He has written a funny, thematic movie that explores race, education inequality, and identity into a fast paced world for which the characters are not ready. He creates a world that blends our trio’s alternative (historical?) culture with the modern day challenges they face.
The young cast is worth mention. Lead Shameik Moore manages a strong lead debut. His Malcolm matches the combination of self-awareness of his world at odds with his profound geekery. Spilling definitions to drug dealers and acting as intermediary with the dealer’s love interest (well, doubtful love is on his mind), Shamiek plays nerd with socially awkward zeal. Malcolm is unsuspecting at every turn, and the multiple turns allow the character to grow into a very headstrong guy.
His friends Jib and Diggy are played by Tony Revolori of The Grand Budapest Hotel and newcomer Kiersey Clemons, respectively. Revolori expands upon the monotone humor I expected as a fluke. He thrives in the “funky fresh” behavior this group presents; pushing his eyebrows back with as little irony as he can muster. Kiersey possesses a much different admirable quality, playing a black lesbian, a role so rarely seen. Not only is she butch in such a heteronormative environment, but she is forthcoming and confident regarding it, not hiding in the shadows. Where Shamiek and Tony are breaking into little experienced territory, I have seen few similar roles as Diggy, save the exceptional Pariah from a few years back.
Dope doesn’t struggle to find its voice; Famuyiwa understands what he’s trying to do. He has not only created a great comedy with a young, talented, diverse cast, but he has done it with an original vision and noticeable artistic growth. Glad to see risks from a writer-director.