By no means is Dope a crummy movie. However, it’s hard not to notice flaws when filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa takes such a steep approach to the coming-of-age sub-genre.
Audiences have been spoiled with great coming-of-age films ranging from 2012’s excellent The Perks of Being a Wallflower to this year’s surprising Paper Towns. Dope begins well-enough as a story chronicling the life of geeky highschooler Malcolm (played by Shameik Moore in a great breakout role) as he kids around with his equally geeky pals and dodges thugs. A barrage of 90’s hip hop, colourful flare, and racial slur vernacular set the scene, but the film isn’t headed where we expect.
Instead of dissecting hardships of teenage maturity, Famuyiwa (who also wrote the script) hands the innocent protagonists a knapsack full of drugs and a gun. Dope opens up a tickle trunk of heady entertainment where everyone is trying to find Malcolm as he’s trying to return the narcotics to the correct drug dealer.
As someone who is always wanting filmmakers to take more chances and see movies attempt new storytelling angles, I was pleased with how the film offered constant challenges, but I also felt fooled. Rick Famuyiwa gave me a collection of interesting characters, and now I was watching him mash them together while gunshots fired. It’s too sharp of a shift to truly get used to, but with more practice, I have no doubt the gifted filmmaker/screenwriter will improve on these transitions.
Dope does end up where it started though. After a busy 40-minute stretch, the story then asks for Malcolm to roll with the punches and make lemonade out of his peculiar situation. The execution borrows a lot from Luke Greenfield’s The Girl Next Door (which, to my understanding, borrowed a lot from Paul Brickman’s Risky Business), but Dope maintains to entertain through convoluted and farfetched resolutions. Blake Anderson (of Workaholics fame) appears late in the game as a scene-stealing stoned mastermind. A spinoff vehicle for Anderson could easily be made, and possibly have more success considering how wild he and Famuyiwa are willing to be.
Consider Dope as a unique food you feel indifferent towards. You don’t feel hungry enough to seek it out, but if it’s there, you’ll be glad you took a bite.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie