Dope Review

Posted: December 15, 2015 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

dope-movie-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

There has been increasing criticism of mainstream cinema for its depiction of black characters. You’d think by 2015 would largely be past this, but sadly, that isn’t the case. Many films still can only conceptualize blacks in only a handful of roles, such as gangsters, or as one-dimensional characters who only exist to reveal traits for their white counterparts. And then of course there are the plethora of films which opt to simply not feature black characters at all. The new high school comedy Dope, seems almost like a direct response to these limited portrayals. The film does follow the struggles of young blacks living in Inglewood, but these personalities drift from what most films on the subject matter would present.

Malcolm Adekanbi (Shameik Moore) is a high school senior who lives in Inglewood with his mother. Malcolm doesn’t fit in with most of his peers at school. He’s a self-proclaimed geek with a passion for 90s hip hop and fashion. He finds solace in his equally geeky friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), and the three even have their own punk band. Against their party judgement, the three agree to the birthday party of a drug dealer, a decision which leads to Malcolm and possession of a lot of drugs and a handgun. Malcolm now has to find a way to get rid of all this product while simultaneously keeping all the various parties off his back.

An independent film about a trio of high school senior misfits questioning their college future will almost certainly draw attention to another recent film; Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Like that film, Dope also has a really hip indie vibe, but two elements separate Dope. For one, the film doesn’t lean on quirk to get by. The film certainly relies on style, namely a lot of rapid editing and a near constant soundtrack, but these elements never become annoying. More importantly, they’re actually important to telling the story. Second, the coming of age stuff is actually interesting and feels more original. This isn’t the first film to deal with young blacks struggling in Inglewood, but it’s the only one I can think of that focuses on personalities as overtly geeky as this, which is interesting to see. Malcolm, Jib, and Diggy prove to be entertaining personalities which are really fun to watch.

The first twenty minutes or so of Dope are really damn good. The writing is funny, the style energetic, and the film manages to explore issues of modern black identity in a way that is very entertaining and thoughtful. However the longer the film goes and the more the plot kicks in, the worse Dope gets. The film ends up getting really bogged down in a plot involving drug dealing which I never really bought into, and only seemed to get more ridiculous. On top of that, I found the messages of the film to kind of be abandoned. By the end of the film when the script returns to the issues of young blacks growing up in the projects, it didn’t really seem natural. The rest of the plot seemed a bit too “out there” for the film to then try and present a serious picture of reality.

For all my criticisms for the bulk of the film, Dope does manage to maintain a pretty strong sense of humour throughout. It’s a pretty amusing comedy and I also really like the characters. I could also see the film being something of a breakthrough for director Rick Famuyiwa. He’s been making films for a few years to minimal success, but this has received a fair amount of attention and is shot with a lot of style and flair. On the whole though, I can’t help but be a disappointed with Dope. It’s a film with some really admirable goals that starts out great, but gradually descends into mediocrity and is never able to pull itself out. In some ways the strong opening is actually a hindrance since the movie inherently becomes a let-down. I still think the movie is at least worth a shot at home, but could have been a lot better.


  1. Damien Riley says:

    Nice review. I thought a similarly negative portrayal was in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, the character Earl. He was wise beyond his years but I felt he was too savvy for his age and it didn’t work. I think I’ll pass on Dope.

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