Seems like those coming-of-age “day in the life of” movies are some of the most memorable. The awkward, pressure-filled years of high school make for entertaining subject matter, and Dope gave me that nostalgic feeling, hearkening back to classic movies like House Party, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Risky Business, where hapless high school students find themselves in a sticky situation. Set against a unique yet familiar California backdrop, the movie was a cool homage to 90’s culture with enough current hipster-isms to be perfectly relevant to today’s times.
Malcolm (Shameik Moore), Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), and Jib (Tony Revolori) are three 90’s-obsessed best friends living in Inglewood, California. In the microcosmic world that is high school, they’re considered geeks – but their love of hip hop from the recent past is ironically as cool as it gets. Malcolm is aware that his story is clichéd: he comes from a single-parent household; never really met his father, and lives in a rough neighborhood. He distinguishes himself by going against the grain in both the company he keeps and their shared avant-garde musical pursuits. Unfortunately, their punk band’s biggest fan is probably the school custodian. Malcolm is college-bound, hoping that his stellar grades and SAT scores will secure him admission to Harvard.
Has there ever been a geek in a movie that didn’t predictably pine away for a beautiful girl presumably out of his league? Nakia (Zoe Kravitz, Fury Road) is the object of Malcolm’s affection, an older girl from the neighborhood who similarly aspires to more than her surroundings. When they cross paths and she casually invites him to a party – Malcolm and his crew know they have to be there. At the party, Malcolm inadvertently gets tangled up with the local dope boy and finds himself in a crazy predicament that threatens all the hard work he’s done to prepare for his future.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but suffice to say that Dope was a fun ride. The soundtrack featured much of the music I grew up with, and most thirty-somethings and 80’s babies alike will appreciate the song placement as well as the characters’ affinity for the culture. There are some notable names attached to the film, as Forest Whitaker is credited with producing and narrating. Additionally, Pharrell Williams is an executive producer, and his musical influence on the young trio’s aesthetic is obvious. Sure the plot went left a couple of times – but this is not a movie to be dissected. I was surprised to see so many older people of varying backgrounds in the theater – so maybe this film has universal appeal for anyone who remembers their awkward (or awesome) high school days. Dope was dope. Grade: A-