Every once in a while, a film comes along that represents how important impeccable casting is to a completed work. “Dope”, written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa of “The Wood” fame and produced by Forest Whitaker and Pharrell Williams, is this year’s shining example.
High-school senior Malcolm, played with clever wit by the talented Shameik Moore, marches to his own drum, if at times to his detriment. A Black kid in Inglewood, California, he earns great grades, wears both hair and clothing straight out of an episode of “A Different World”, loves 90’s hip-hop, wants to get into Harvard, and fronts his own kick-ass punk band. Needless to say, Malcolm stands out. He is supported by his friends Diggy and Jib, played with remarkable compassion, timing and humor by Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori.
Malcolm’s individuality catches the attention (though we’re never really told why) of a neighborhood drug dealer named Dom (A$AP Rocky… “whaaat?”), with a very cute girlfriend played by the ubiquitous Zoe Kravitz, who has grown into the splitting image of Lisa Bonet. And well, all hell breaks loose when a LOT of “product” ends up in Malcolm’s backpack at a party they all attend.
Malcolm and his mates then embark on a wild goose chase in which they are sometimes the hunters and at other times the geese. Along the way they meet some amazingly quirky and crazy characters that amplify the entire story, even if they’re only around for a few minutes.
I must stop here for a moment to comment about this in more depth. Every single character in “Dope” – major and minor – is so well written that I would now pay good money to watch their own individual stories play on the big screen. Famuyiwa has fleshed out each one as if he not only knows them, but actually cares about them just as much as his main character. That is very rare, and quite appreciated.
A total standout: the naked lady. That’s all I’m going to say. She deserves a friggin Oscar nomination for taking what could have been a nothing role and elevating it to the next level with supreme comic prowess.
Add to this ride a couple of cameos from splendid character actors Kimberly Elise and Roger Guenveur Smith and some well-placed but not over-the-top commentary on race, the N-word and what it really means to be Black in the States these days, and you’ve got a timely hit and a welcome surprise.
There are a few moments where the film’s editing made me confused about what was happening, but it was never enough to make me stop enjoying it. Bottom line: the folks at Sundance Film Festival loved “Dope”, and now I do too.