Before we begin to talk about Dope, let’s acknowledge how hard it is to actually find a cinema playing Dope. In the Brisbane/Gold Coast/ Ipswich area there is one cinema playing the film three times a day on opening week. Due to zero competition the box office is more ludicrous than usual, the parking is atrocious, the venue held only fifty people and was near sold out on a Monday night.
This is opposed to over four hundred cinemas nationwide each playing the Vacation reboot fourteen times in one day.
So why trek to see Dope? The spirit of adventure, for one, and to witness a bloody brilliant movie for another. Sitting here now, the best movie of 2015.
Malcolm hangs out with his two best friends Jib and Diggy, wants to go to Harvard and maybe get laid – but make no mistake, this isn’t some John Green adaptation. It’s an often graphic look at a rough part of Los Angeles filled with crime of all sorts, especially drugs and violence. Malcom and co do their best to keep their head down until one day Dom – in a fine supporting role from real-life Grammy nominated rapper A$AP Rocky – forcibly recruits them to ask a girl on a date for him.
The girl, Nakia, is the diamond amongst the rough and has similar dreams of a world outside of the hood. To complete his conscription and step outside of his comfort zone Malcom agrees to meet her at Dom’s birthday party, only to end up with someone else’s drugs in his backpack.
And that’s about all of the plot you’ll get from this review. It’s too good to spoil. It’s a film that uses its volatile environment to keep the audience guessing. In the Bottoms anybody could die at any moment, even good kids like our trio of protagonists. The film never lingers too much on this – as Malcom succinctly states, “it’s a cliché”, it’s reality – but it continues to place them in situations that remind you that this not a nice town and that their reality is warped.
All of this sounds pretty serious. It’s up to a slick comedic script to make it an enjoyable hundred and three minutes at the tiny cinema.
Dope is hilarious. It’s goofy and abstract and has a Ferris Bueller charm to a lot of its lighter moments that keep it from dragging. The trio’s fish-out-of-water awkwardness is so consistent that its absence in one crucial scene demonstrates how absolutely vital it is to the film and the characters that inhabit it.
On top of it all is a truly killer soundtrack curated by another Grammy winner, Pharrell Williams. His juggernaut Happy was the highest grossing single in Australia in 2014 and spent over half a year inside the Top 40. He has produced the signature songs for the biggest acts in the world including Nelly, Snoop Dogg, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Daft Punk. For Dope he mixed new material by in-movie band Awreeoh with the biggest hits from hip-hop. It’s certainly worth a listen.
Studios love a story, particularly when marketing smaller films like Dope. The narrative spins that “before the actors were cast, before there was a script, when there was just the beginning of imagining Dope, there was Pharrell”. His influence can be seen throughout but this quote sounds more marketing than anything else.
Interestingly, Forest Witaker is credited as producer but not pushed at all in the marketing. He also narrates sparsely throughout the film, helping to get the audience up to speed with the intricacies of life in the Bottoms. Sean Combs, the artist formerly known as P. Diddy, co-executive produces.
The up-and-coming actors recruited for the film are dynamite. It makes sense to seek out unknowns rather than Hollywood players like Michael B Jordan or Alfred Enoch – both for the size of the production and the intimacy of the script. Even with all the excellent pieces in place a rubbish cast would sink the smart writing in a heartbeat.
Shamiek Moore makes his feature film debut in the lead role and crushes it. Tony Revolori, of the standout The Grand Budapest Hotel, plays a timid sidekick to Moore. He’s timid, he’s wild, he’s adventurous, he’s reluctant, he’s anxious, he’s loyal – this supporting player is more three dimensional than most of the lead characters of the last blockbuster season. Kiersey Clemons, of a dozen one-off television guest spots, completes the trio with a brash attitude and a can-do spirit.
Accidentally coerced into attending drug dealer’s birthday? No worries.
Stuck with someone else’s drugs? We can handle it.
Getting jumped for your bike? Challenged accepted.
There’s a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo from Tyga and two standout scenes with Victoria’s Secret model Chanel Iman that take the graphic nature of Dope and flip it on its head. In a film filled with above-average performances Iman and Moore take the cake.
Dope is such a deceptively powerful film. It starts as a casual look at life in the hood and the impact an environment has on three teens trying to do their best. Before it can get too weighty it changes up to a side-splitting coming of age comedy that becomes entangled in a heist-action piece that escalates to an all-out crime story before tying it all back together as an all-genre, all-awesome movie.
And then it circles back to its original idea, extremely suddenly. And it says some truths. And it incites some powerful emotions, as a good film should do.
And so the hundred and three minutes is a great time. It is comedy and action and love and all the stuff that makes an excellent film. And it makes a potent and extraordinarily valid statement without preaching.
Dope is awesome. And worth the shitty parking.