“Dope” was strategically re-released over Labor Day weekend, probably due to the huge popularity of “Straight Outta Compton.” The fact is, “Dope” deserved to be re-released on its own merits. If you don’t go see this film, I’m not doing my job. It’s a Rubik’s Cube view of the human condition wrapped up in a fast-paced, now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t, trippy story of teens coming of age in Inglewood. Everything is not what it seems. This movie will shake you up and pour you out if you let it. Your perception will be upended. It’s about presentation and posing — the things that we do to try to control the image that we reflect to others.
The story is about three nerdy teenage misfits trying to navigate the social and educational mazes of their public school in the L.A. area. OK, so nothing out of the ordinary there. However, these three are highly intelligent, musically gifted, funny characters and their school is in the “Bottoms” neighborhood in Inglewood, home to drug-pushers and gangsters — not exactly “Leave It to Beaver” territory … certainly not the neighborhood of the great new TV series “Black-ish.”
Many of the filmmakers and actors have not had a lot of experience prior to this project, which allows a refreshing and unexpected style to take shape in this movie. For Shameik Moore, who plays the protagonist Malcolm, this was his first lead role in a film. He is an incredibly talented and intelligent actor/singer/dancer with a knack for hiding his smarts behind an innocent and befuddled look reminiscent of Stan Laurel. Tony Revolori (the bellboy from “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and Kiersey Clemons (from TV’s “Austin & Ally” and “Transparent”) round out Malcolm’s colorful, crazy and sometimes bumbling crew. Chanel Iman, in her first real acting gig, plays the gorgeous dysfunctional Lily with a hilarious knack for physical comedy. Also in the film: Blake Anderson as a comical stoner, rapper A$AP Rocky, Quincy Brown (son of Kim Porter and Sean Combs) and Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet).
Writer/director Rick Famuyiwa is a force to watch. Famuyiwa grew up in Inglewood. His film delivers surprises around every turn, with a Shakespearean undercurrent recognizing the universal flaws in us humans. Cinematographer Rachel Morrison highlights the faces of these fascinating kids and at the same time makes the landscape of the Inglewood “Bottoms” one of the main characters of the story. Casting director Kim Coleman did a wonderful job populating the film with colorful and real individuals. As one of the executive producers, Pharrell Williams had much to do with the success of this production.
“Dope” is at the same time a coming-of-age story and a revelation of social truths. Just remember as you’re watching it that all is not what it seems. Note that quite often we do not make much attempt to look beneath the surface. I hope we see “Dope” and its team among those nominated at the 2016 Spirit Awards.
Rated R. 103 minutes.
Kathryn Whitney Boole was drawn into the entertainment industry as a kid and never left. It has been the backdrop for many awesome adventures with crazy creative people. She now works as a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. Reach her at email@example.com. For previously published reviews, see https://kwboole.wordpress.com.