Sundance 2015: Rick Famuyiwa's 'Dope' is Smart, Funny, The Best Yet
by Alex Billington
January 25, 2015
Wow. This was the film I was waiting to discover at Sundance 2015. Rick Famuyiwa's Dope is one of the best films I've seen at Sundance so far: refreshingly unique, incredibly smart, hilarious throughout, edgy, and subversive in the way it challenges typical cliches of urban storytelling. Dope is a coming-of-age film about a kid from "the bottoms" in Inglewood, California who is a big geek, not the expected thug, and in his final year of high school ends up in a wacky debacle that may help him end up right where he belongs. It's awesome, really, this film rules and everyone is going to be talking about it. I loved it, from the soundtrack to the performances, it's a breakout from this year's festival and should connect with many movie lovers.
The quickest comparison to make to give a sense of the film is to say that Dope is a bit like The Wackness, another Sundance favorite from a few years ago. However, it's actually a step or two above that film in the way it builds in social commentary that doesn't feel forced. It's a film made by a geek that speaks volumes about what it means to be yourself, to stay true to who you are despite what society, what the culture around you, dictates you should be. And the ending is utterly perfect, just brilliant. I don't even want to reveal much about it, but the main character breaks the fourth wall and speaks right to us, delivering lines that wrap up everything we've just learned, with a very poignant moment of truth. It deserved cheers (and did get some).
Dope stars Shameik Moore as Malcom, a geeky kid who feels he cannot be defined by any of the typical categories of society, whether it be thug or straight-A student. His friends, played by Tony Revolori (the "Lobby Boy" from The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Jib and Kiersey Clemons as Diggy, are the same, and the three get caught up in an adventure involving lots of drugs, girls, Bitcoin, 90's hip hop, prom and so much more. The film could've turned out very bland, but right when I felt it was going down a well-traveled road, it diverts onto another path less taken. Sleek editing with cuts, split screens, and other filmmaking tricks help set it apart and make it feel refreshingly original, and yet still be energetic and easily relatable.
From the fantastic soundtrack that features all kinds of classic 90's hip hop songs and more (someone find me a tracklisting!), including tracks from their punk band, to sleek cinematography that never gets in the way or distracts, the film is near perfect. The ending pulled it all together, even the lose threads, and hit me hard as a clever conclusion after all we've been through. It's biting social commentary meets contemporary filmmaking at its best, and it just soars. Shameik Moore is yet another fresh new face in town who is going far. Everyone in the cast is at their best, from Zoë Kravitz to Blake Anderson to Keith Stanfield, and I can't stop saying great things about them (and this film). I wish I could see it again while at this festival.
It doesn't matter who you are, or what kind of music you like, or how big of a geek (or not) you think you may be, this is a film that reminds everyone that being yourself is most important above all. Don't let the world stereotype you, don't get pushed into classifications, don't be identified by what they want to think, but rather by how you want to be defined, however that is. Life will push and pull you in different directions, but stay true. I'm so happy that a film this great can emphasize such a powerful message, without feeling overbearing. I don't want to do it, because everyone is making this jokey statement, but Dope really is dope.
Alex's Sundance 2015 Rating: 10 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing