Blu-ray Review: Dope

Dope is a smart and funny coming-of-age dramedy that leans more towards the comedic side of the spectrum to tell its story, which isn’t the easiest task when you’re dealing with high school students living in Inglewood, CA, trying to escape a world filled with gangsters, drug dealers, and random shootouts that can occur at any given moment, if they can just get into college.

The story centers around Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his two best friends, Jib (The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), all of whom are viewed as geeks according to their school’s social spectrum. The three of them dress, and act like their favourite ‘90s hip hop artists, using ‘90s slang and basically trying to live in an era they wish they’d grown up in. Oh, and they also have their own punk band, Awreeoh (pronounced Oreo).

Malcolm is also incredibly smart, well articulated and has aspirations of going to Harvard; though he’s struggling to find his true self in the dangerous world around him. He knows he’s unique and different, and while he embraces that when writing his college application essay, his teacher, Mr. Bailey (Bruce Beatty) thinks he should go the more tried and true route by writing about how he’s a young black man from a rough neighbourhood, who grew up with his single mom and never knew his father – an angle which Malcolm feels is cliché and not how he wants to represent himself.

As is the case with any coming of age story, something has to happen that turns the main character’s life upside down or alter it in a way that nothing will ever be the same for them once all is said and done. For Malcolm, that moment comes when he and his friend’s make a choice to take the route home from school that avoids the thugs and gangsters, but takes them right through the realm of the neighbourhood drug dealers.

This choice, and a few that follow, quickly lead Malcolm and his friends down a slippery slope when he realizes that someone has hidden a great deal of drugs, and a gun, inside his backpack at an underground club party they were invited to. Unsure of what to do, and with multiple people looking to get their hands on the drugs in question, Malcolm must dig deep and discover his true self if he has any hopes of getting himself and his friends out of this situation in one piece.

Filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa both wrote and directed Dope, and his tight script and humorous take on a life and scenario that’s anything but really elevates the story to places that could have easily fallen into the world of cliché by a lesser writer. The dialogue is sharp, and the story flows smoothly from one crazy moment to the next.

One very important element to Dope is that Famuyiwa also doesn’t shy away from the dangers of the world Malcolm lives in. In the opening moments, the narrator (Forest Whitaker) talks about one of Malcolm’s classmates being gunned down right before he was about to order a cheeseburger. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the scene is powerful in that it shows just how scary things can be where Malcolm comes from. It’s dramatic and shocking, but the comedic dialogue quickly bring the viewer back into the more upbeat nature that Famuyiwa is going for with his script. It’s a scary, yet fleeting moment, like that’s just how it is, and this is what Malcolm is trying to escape.

The film is well shot, smartly edited and snappily paced. It’s these elements, along with the incredibly strong cast really make Dope something special. Every character on the screen feels real, from the friendly – yet self-absorbed – drug dealer (A$ap Rocky), to a drug-addicted sex addict named Lily (Chanel Iman), who unintentionally becomes Internet famous to the point of having a drug named after her.

At the top, of course, is Moore, who absolutely nails the confident, yet unsure and inexperienced in life Malcolm in ways that I’m sure Famuyiwa could have only dreamed would happen when he was writing the character. It’s arguable to say that the film may not have succeeded as well as it does without Moore in the lead role, and Dope will no doubt be a launching pad for him moving forward as an actor, and it’ll be great to see what else he has to offer in the future.

If you’re looking for a fun, entertaining film that will not only have you laughing throughout, but also caring about what happens to the characters within it, then look no further than Dope. In fact, you’d be a dope not to check it out. Okay, now that was a cliché closing line!

Dope looks and sounds fantastic! The studio really nailed the Blu-ray transfer of this one, as the picture always looks fabulous and rich, and the musical score (that was curated by Pharrell Williams) really blasts to life. The sharp dialogue and sound effects also come through beautifully.

On the special features front, Dope is fairly light. While Dope wasn’t a runaway hit at the box office, it was definitely incredibly successful, so not having a director’s commentary is really unfortunate. I would have loved to have heard from Famuyiwa and even Moore about experiences on set, and the filming process in general.

As it stands there are two behind-the-scenes featurettes, which both come in at roughly 3.5 minutes long. One focuses on the music, and the other the story. They both see interviews interlaced with scenes from the film, which makes the true meat of these extras even leaner.

Still, while it would have been great to have had a commentary, or a deeper behind-the-scenes feature, the film being as strong as it is still makes Dope a Blu-ray that you should look to add to your collection!

Sony Pictures Releasing International and Stage 6 Films Present Dope. Written and Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa. Starring: Shameik Moore, Kiersey Clemons, Tony Revolori, A$ap Rocky, Bruce Beatty, Chanel Iman, Zoe Kravitz. Running time: 103 Minutes. Rating: 14A. Released on Blu-ray: October 20, 2015.

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