Film Review: Dope

by Vincent Chan

Rated MA15+. Starring Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

If you’re looking for a new haircut, Dope might give you an idea for one. Watch the trailer and you’ll see what I mean.

Malcolm (Moore) is a geek. Along with his two friends Jib (Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) they’re your usual high school kids with the angst and struggles of trying to find their place in the social ladder. As the name of the film suggests though, things don’t always go as expected. After being invited to a drug dealer’s party, Malcolm unintentionally ends up with a bag full of cocaine, which leads to people with guns chasing him with down, and a need to get rid of the drugs – all while trying to apply for Harvard University.

But all of that is the least of his worries. The underlying question that Malcolm faces throughout what can only be described as eclectic mix of events is – where does he belong? He wants to be dope in being able to fit in and get the girls – but at the same time he doesn’t want to descend to the stereotypes and clichés of the ‘African American from a poor neighbourhood’. He likes his 90’s hip-hop and wears a hairstyle to match it, but he’s good at maths and gets bullied by the jocks. This contrast of Malcolm is found in the film itself – bright colours followed by gritty suburban streets, loud music followed by periods of dialogue.

Whilst we’re speaking about music – Dope has a great soundtrack. Not being an expert or a fan of hip-hop, the film nonetheless spun all the right beats to make things crank. Even better was the interspersed scenes of Malcolm and his friends performing in his band. In turn these songs became part of the backing soundtrack that was just charming and a nice touch. It’s probably not a surprise that this was one of the key features of the film, with producers Pharrell Williams and Sean Combs in the backing. As such, this is an indie film with a very smooth production.

However, I felt a little unsettled by the way Dope approached certain things. It showed drug use without showing the consequences. Sexual innuendo was just chucked in for cheap laughs. Nudity was the norm. In fact, the only thing that Dope seems to portray as bad was: don’t let others shape your destiny, shape it yourself. It was an interesting experience as I found myself wondering whether this was what most people thought it meant to ‘come of age’: The need for an experience of drugs, sex and in the case of Malcolm: 90’s hip-hop.

Which student do you think I am?

Dope drives at something I believe all teenagers and probably a lot of adults often question about: Who am I and where do I belong? It’s not an easy question to answer. In high school there is group segregation, and the group we belong to says something about us. In life we have experiences and whilst we don’t want to be defined by them, we nonetheless look to them for a lot of answers. It was telling that in the film Malcolm was ashamed to admit he was a virgin – after all, would people look down on him for that?

However the truth that the Bible holds is that the meaning to these questions can only be found when you know God. The theologian Calvin once wrote that to truly know man, you first need to truly know God. How do you work out who you are and where you belong? You can only do so when you come back to the one who gives true understanding of this life. No quick fixes. No quick highs. But a true solution. John 4:13-14:

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never this. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” 

Dope is a slick film, with a sporadic storyline at times, but overall saved by a great soundtrack. Be warned that there is strong coarse language, sexual references and nudity. I’m giving it three-and-a-half stars.

Dope will release in Australian cinemas on August 20. It is currently screening in the U.S.

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