Film Friday: DOPE

Man, that film was… Dope.

Please, just stop - The Update. Photo: GIPHY
Please, just stop – The Update. Photo: GIPHY

Dope (2015) is the most recent Sundance darling, getting offers from six different production companies to distribute it when it premiered. It’s a movie about a group of three teenagers who are into 90s Hip Hop and Rap (Sound familiar?). They accidentally get involved in a drug deal and end up with a backpack full of dope (Get it?) and no idea what to do with it. The film follows their adventure and shenanigans with the mystery drug and how they overcome adversity.

At first, one might dismiss Dope as another teen coming of age dramedy to rake in the Benjamins (yeah, yeah, baby). But Dope is more than just that. Dope is about poverty, racism, crime, social mobility, youthful ingenuity, geekdom, bitcoins and the idea of a shadow currency etc. I promise you, Dope is not this year’s Fault in Our Stars (That honour belongs to Paper Towns), but this generation’s American Graffiti.

“All about the Bennies, yeah yeah baby.” – Benjamin Franklin. Photo:

Dope begins with Malcolm, a 90s Hip-Hop culture obsessed geek living in ‘The Bottoms’ of Inglewood, California. He and his friends get invited to a gangsta’s birthday party, wherein Malcolm accidentally ends up with a bag full of a new experimental drug named LILY. Malcolm is then forced to find out a way to get rid of the drug, all while trying to apply to university. These aren’t the most whack times to be Malcolm.

Dope‘s writing is seriously ballin’. The director/writer, Rick Famuyiwa – a man known for classics like Brown Sugar – wrote the film in a style that is both hilarious and contemplative, realistic and drole, fire and screwed up. It’s a movie unlike any others, mostly in its references. Due to a mixture of technology’s rapid rate of innovation and most award givers having an average age of 63, films are wont to not revolve that much around tech. Very few writers even understand tech that much (“I’ll run a GUI to trace the IP of the e-mail, then upload the results to a database where the OS will get the job done” is an actual quote from a TV show). Dope, on the other hand, deals with tech head-on. It discusses Bitcoins and the idea of a decentralized shadow currency. It mentions the Dark Web and the illegal selling of drugs on it. It brings up the topic of the US Drone program and increased police militarization, and whether or not the two may mix soon. It is a very modern movie, and is not afraid to break conventions.

Most Hollywood writers in a nutshell. Photo:
Most Hollywood writers in a nutshell. Photo:

The direction of Dope is also pretty fire. The style is a mix between a more comedic version of Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction. The establishing shot is of the various dictionary definitions of Dope, and later shots keep this animation intact when describing Malcolm and his friends. It becomes more comedic and Goodfellas-ish when the film depicts Malcolm on his lonely Friday nights, being ‘whack’ (Imma say no more, fam). From there, the direction will hook you with its creativity, pace, and just generally being pretty dope.

Dis dude and me? We cool. Photo:
Dis dude and me? We cool. Photo:

The acting is also something to behold. The main characters are relatively unknown (bar possibly Tony Revolori, of the Grand Budapest Hotel) but the cameos are where the film shines. Imma shown you before my views on celebrity cameos, but that was different. I hated on those celebrity cameos because they didn’t have any substance to them. They felt hollow. This time, however, if a celebrity appears, they actually have a pretty big role. A$ap Rocky appears not as himself but as a character with actual necessity to the continuation of the storyline. Forest Whitaker also cameos, but again, he’s not just thrown in, but helps introduce the story. Blake Anderson, as well, is actually important to the story and isn’t just thrown in. This film understands how to do a celebrity cameo, another reason to laud it.

In terms of music, I ain’t ever heard an original soundtrack so fire since Inside Llewyn Davis. It makes sense, given the composer was Pharrell ‘Huge Hat’ Williams. The best way to describe the soundtrack would be to mix together modern R&B, 80s and 90s rap and 2000s rock. Pretty nice, fo sho. Imma most def buy myself some of that sonic gold.

Pharrel 'Huge Hat' Williams as seen in the wild. Photo:
Pharrell ‘My Hat Feeds a Family of Five’ Williams as seen in the wild. Photo:

Dope is a trailblazer (emphasis on the blazer). It has set a new standard for coming of age stories. They can no longer be about rich white kids worrying about rich white kid problems that nobody else would consider a problem (hello, reaction to the new mezzanine rules) but about the struggle that some must face merely to grow up. About growing up in a world where merely being a living adult is a miracle. Dope is heartbreaking, sobering and fire all at once. It deserves far more time in the spotlight than it currently has. If it gets what it deserves, it will be our Breakfast Club and not just another bildungsroman.

Dope achieves its title, by getting a 7/7.

There is no need to worry, for The Update is already punishing the writer for his cringy whiteness. We apologize for all embarrassment had during the reading of this article.

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