A coming of age story with a twist, this Sundance Film Festival hit is an extremely entertaining and in depth look at how one decision can change a young man’s life.
By Michael Menednez
Remember John Hughes? He was known for his hit movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” “Sixteen Candles,” and of course “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Although all different, what’s the one thing they had in common? Each movie, granted from a different angle, told the story of teenagers trying to find themselves. The same can be said about Dope. Yet, this movie stands out from Hughes’ other works.
The entire movie centers on Malcolm, played beautifully by newcomer Shameik Moore. Malcolm is a “straight A” student with dreams to go to Harvard. He constantly gets bullied at school, and prospects of him going to Harvard seem slim (growing up in Inglewood, California doesn’t help his situation), making it seem like Malcolm may not get out of “The Bottoms,” the coined name for the area in which he lives.
Beyond worrying about getting bullied at school, every day is a struggle for Malcolm. Growing up in the ghetto and avoiding gang members is typical, crafting his route home to miss them. One day, though, it is unavoidable, and what happens next will forever change Malcolm’s life. Without giving too much away, because this film has a lot of twists and turns that connect to each other throughout (much in a way that Quentin Tarantino’s films do), this is a film like none other you’ve ever seen before.
He’s got a lot riding on his ability to sell these drugs that almost literally fell into his lap, with no experience and only his want to get rid of it. At heart, Malcolm is a true nerd. With this film, we get an in-depth look at a young black man trying to make something of himself, and the unexpected turns his journey will take him on in trying to do so.
Beautifully shot by ace cinematographer Rachel Morrison and with a soundtrack that perfectly fits not only the scenery but also the inner struggle that Malcolm faces (the movie was produced by Pharrell Williams), this movie sent me for a loop… in a really awesome way. With a completely engaging turn from Moore as Malcolm, we get lost in the characters struggle and what it ultimately means for his future and those around him. Pop culture references a plenty, we particularly enjoyed the plug for BitCoins.
Without giving away major plot points, Dope is a superb piece of filmmaking, leaving the viewer cheering Malcolm on. His ability to overcome insurmountable odds, and transition as a human being is insanely engaging. He is able to look at us, break the fourth wall, and tell us why his story isn’t necessarily any different than anyone else’s. Even though it is. Malcolm puts his future in jeopardy, puts his life in danger, only to make his future brighter.
He gives us someone that cannot be seen as a drug pusher (which is, in all essence, what he’s turns in to), but as someone who has to do it… to get out and never look back. With great acting, an unbelievably unpredictable script, and a main character that everyone can relate to – Dope gives us a coming-of-age story that has all the ingredients to become a classic in modern cinema.
Long gone are the days of teen angst, this film hits hard. In a world where drugs are on almost every corner, how hard is it to believe that a 17-year-old kid, trying to get in to Harvard, somehow gets in the mix? This is a much darker film than Hughes’ other projects, but still bares the general outlook of a high school kid wondering where he’s going to go from here.
Michael Menendez is a student at the University of Central Florida, where he majors in journalism.