Dope ★★★½

“I'm from a poor, crime-filled neighborhood, raised by a single mother, don't know my dad, blah, blah. It's cliche.”

Writer and director Rick Famuyiwa delivers an energetic coming of age film that goes out of its way to avoid cliches. That is why despite having a familiar premise, the characters feel unique and are fun to hang around with. This film premiered at Sundance and it was well received thanks to Shameik Moore’s charismatic lead performance. It’s a feel good movie about a straight-A student who despite growing up in a poor neighborhood dreams of being accepted into Harvard. Malcolm also happens to have a punk band and hangs around his two best friends, Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons). The three are geeks who happen to be fascinated with 90’s hip hop culture, but Famuyiwa writes these characters in such a way that they don’t feel like your typical geeks from high school. The three friends have a difficult time surviving their last year in high school, but things take an unexpected turn for them when a drug dealer named Dom (ASAP Rocky) invites them to his birthday party. A riot ensues later that night in the club and Dom hides the drugs in Malcolm’s backpack which will in turn unfold a chain of crazy events that will put his and his friends’ lives in danger. I know the premise might sound a bit familiar for a coming of age film, but the movie does avoid familiar cliches and ends up taking a life of its own. Not every scene works in this comedy and I was grossed out a couple of times (the Chanel Iman scene didn’t work for me), but there are some funny moments. There is one scene where Malcolm and his friends are having a conversation with their stoner buddy (played by Blake Anderson) about why white people can’t use the n word. The film also ends with the main character breaking the fourth wall and giving us a moral lecture about racism which many found to be a bit preachy and out of place, but I didn’t have an issue with it.

The things the film does get right is the energetic editing that keeps the pace of the film moving at a fun beat and the fantastic soundtrack from Pharell Williams. It’s hard not to enjoy a film that pays tribute to some of the 90’s pop culture references and there is even a scene where Dom’s character disses Malcolm and his friends for being overly excited about that era, so even if you weren’t a fan of the 90’s you can enjoy his rant about it. The film always has this feeling of being fresh and fun and Shameik Moore plays a huge role in doing so. His friends don’t get much character development and are only there to back him up at times or land a strong joke, but they have strong enough chemistry with Malcolm to give the film its energy. Forest Whitaker is the narrator and we get several interruptions during several moments in the movie to hear what he has to say. I don’t know if it was necessary, but it didn’t take away from the movie either. There is also a romantic relationship that is very loosely explored between Malcolm and Nakia (played by Zoe Kravitz), but it isn’t really a big part of the film. The entire film feels fresh because it’s very different from other coming of age films. As I mentioned before these aren’t the typical geeks we’ve seen in other films and Malcolm has a strong and charismatic personality that allows the story to rely on him. The script is witty and avoids falling into familiar stereotypes and that is why I enjoyed this comedy.

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