Yes to 90’s Hip Hop. Yes to high tops and punk rock bands. And yes to the ingenuity of three “geeks” trying to get out of a home town that crawls with drug deals and shoot outs, and make their way to college alive. But most of all, yes to Dope. No, this isn’t a public service announcement to encourage recreational drug taking (from that sentence you can see how cool I am), but rather it’s praise for Dope, a new witty comedy written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (director of Brown Sugar and The Wood).
Simply put, this film celebrates the good, the bad and the ugly of a previous generation in this our beloved 21st Century. For the first 15 minutes of the film, I was convinced it was set in the 90s, taking my cue from the main character Malcolm (played by Shameik Moore), his clothes and aforementioned high top haircut. He’s flanked by his two best friends Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori) and the audience is informed by the monotone voiced narrator (delivered in nonchalant perfection by Forest Whitaker) that they are obsessed with 90s hip hop and are teased for working hard and being seemingly smarter than their peers. The decor of Malcolm’s bedroom alone lends itself to a very Fresh Prince of Bel Air vibe, and it was only when I saw an iPod that I realised its setting was 2015 and these kids were just nostalgic for a time that took place before their existence.
The 90s fashion was on point; place them on a Hackney road today and you wouldn’t be able to pick them out of a line up. Unfortunately, they were living in less forgiving surroundings, in Inglewood, California, the setting of the iconic coming of age drama, 1991’s Boyz in the Hood, and still known for its high crime rates and numbers of young men killed there every year through guns, violence and gang warfare.
But this wasn’t a gritty reflection on gangs today, it was a reflection of young people’s lives in general. There was a comment on being young, black and ambitious, coming from a single parent family and having to work hard every day to distance yourself from crime and trouble with the police. And it was about having great friends who always have your back, even when running from crazy drug dealers and bullies at school trying to steal your new trainers. Most of all though, it was about the music and living it – Naughty by Nature, A Tribe Called Quest; they all blared through the soundtrack, as well as some original songs penned by Pharrell Williams for Malcolm and his friend’s band songs, which were punk and edgy, and reminiscent of a young N.E.R.D.
The humour of the film rang throughout and all the characters carried it well. There were some laugh out loud gross moments (someone throwing up on someone else’s face), and some light romantic relief provided by Zoë Kravitz as Malcolm’s love interest.
Dope somehow managed to place the 90s culture of hip hop, dreams and drug peddling, side by side with today’s generation of Snapchat, memes, Twitter and that damned iPhone tracking your every move. I dare you to watch this film and not find something in it to relate to.
It could be argued that overall the film is about being young and African American and how the struggles faced to better oneself are the same now as they were 25 years ago (yes, that’s how long it’s been since 1990). And although this feels a very relevant way to frame it, my overall feeling from the film was a buzzy, hopeful one. Some of the best music ever written came from the places Dope showcases, and that says a lot about the past cultures we’re still trying to preserve.
Dope gets 4.5 out 5 blue skies from me, for its innocence, dry humour, and the courage it shows by not shying away from the hardships of real life.