A critical hit and audience favorite at the Sundance Film Festival, “DOPE” was seen by some lucky UCSB students who were given a free advanced screening of the film last Thursday. Courtesy of A.S. Student Body, the film was screened in I.V. Theater to students who could not wait for its set release date of June 19. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa, “DOPE” tells the story of high school senior Malcolm and his friends as they carefully survive tough lives in Inglewood, CA while balancing college applications, academic interviews and the SAT.
A contender for this generation’s version of cult-classic “Friday,” but with the aesthetic of “House Party,” “DOPE” kept a sense of realism in its characters who are set up against a ludicrous backdrop. Unlike many other “black” films, “DOPE” uses modern comedic elements by using memes, social media and potty humor. Typically, this would carry a negative connotation, but in the case of this movie it is excellently executed and the pace is so quick that you don’t even care how juvenile it is. The film did not lose the opportunity to play into the irony that was the mainly white audience watching this “contemporary hood narrative.”
The narrator (voiced by co-producer Forest Whitaker) explains how Malcolm and his friends are different from other kids in Inglewood because they are into “white shit,” including “classic ’90s hip-hop culture, BMX biking, getting good grades and miscellaneous geek fixations.” This gets them constantly bullied by the gangs and drug dealers in their neighborhood, especially Dom (A$AP Rocky) who later invites them to his party. Lured in by the prospect of “expanding their horizons” and the enticement of Malcolm’s love interest (Zoë Kravitz), the unlikely trio are thrown into a gritty adventure filled with tits, drugs and bitcoins.
This skuzzy Los Angles odyssey is a dynamic hybrid with a Quentin Tarantino pace and a John Hughes structure all fused within a “Do the Right Thing” vibe. The film provides a contemporary examination of South Los Angeles, racial identity and societal perception all within the metaphor of a Louis Vuitton bag. The film’s complex argument is that it’s not pinning gangster against geek – it is against society itself. As the film closes, Malcolm’s final monologue comes in the form of his Harvard admission essay on racial identity and inequality.
The film’s distinctive eye-catching cinematography was amplified by its use of traditional split-screen technique and freeze-frames, further abetted by colorful design contributions. The offbeat ensemble, drawn from comedians and rappers to models and “lobby boys” (a reference to “Grand Budapest Hotel”), brought to life the film’s characters and overall spirit. All this set to the sick soundtrack created by Pharrell, who produced and wrote most of the music for the film, had the audience jiving in their seats.
Famuyawa’s film was a breath of fresh air with its all-colored cast and eccentricities that reach out to modern, contemporary audiences. The ultimate wish of turning from major geek to major badass is subverted into these underrepresented teens that media has often said is unworthy of our time. This unifying message truly allows the film to live up to its name, my final review being: it was pretty DOPE.