Big Screen: Dope
August 27th 2015
Dope did its best to turn me off straight away.
The lead character is such a cacophony of writer-induced quirks and needless affectations that my guard went straight up. See, the director wants to challenge your perceptions about the type of kids that go to high school in Inglewood, LA – so to demonstrate that they’re not all gang-banging junkies, they introduce Malcolm. We are told that he is a huge geek who is super awkward around girls, but our eyes tell us he has the face of a Calvin Klein model and the carefully-toned body of a professional dancer who works out a lot.
What’s more, on top of being a genius, he’s also into 90’s hip hop, so he dresses like the Fresh Prince and plays in what is nominally a punk band — a punk band which only performs slick pop songs with technical perfection.
What I’m trying to say is that Malcolm is so far removed from any teenager who’s ever walked the earth that the movie feels phoney.
If your point is to challenge perceptions, then why not make a movie about a real geek or punk in Inglewood, rather than this cartoon character? It’s not the actor Shamiek Moore’s fault. He has a great presence and I like him a lot, but his character is such a miscalculation. In spite of this, the movie is actually pretty good.
It’s about how Malcolm and his fake punk bandmates accidentally find themselves with a tonne of drugs.
They have to negotiate their way through cops, gangs and kingpins to get rid of them while also trying to get to an entry interview for Harvard. I very much enjoyed the fact that one of his bandmates was the kid from The Grand Budapest Hotel. Seeing him show up was like receiving a visit from an old friend.
While Dope may not compare to Budapest Hotel, it nonetheless has a great narrative energy which pushes the movie along and helps you mostly ignore the times when the plot goes way off the rails. Sure, the movie occasionally becomes nonsense and sure, the supporting characters — like Malcolm’s tomboy lesbian bandmate Diggy — are so underwritten that they seemingly exist just to give the lead someone to talk to, but these faults are somehow easily overlooked.
It made me think about how movies as full of life and energy as Dope can get away with so much more than films that are better written or more technically competent, that invite you to sit there and pick them apart while characters wander down hallways or go on long drives alone.
Dope is one of those movies that just works.
On paper it’s a disaster, ready to fall apart under close inspection, but when the lights go off the movie just plays. Behind the scenes there are people like Pharrell Williams and Sean Combs – so read into that what you will – but I had a pretty good time with Dope. It’s worth a watch.
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