For The Root, I reviewed the new film Dope which I found to be refreshing, albeit imperfect … not that it stopped me from enjoying it. It was a fun movie.
First, let’s get this out of the way. Dope is a good movie. It is enjoyable, watchable and sweet.
But it is also so sweet that if it were a drink, it would be a hipster, artisan rum punch drowning in simple syrup. And it ties up so neatly—despite all of its early wit and menace—that it almost turns into a sunny after-school special.
It wants to be both quirky and hard, and it probably goes on a few beats too long, milking too much mileage out of the n-word, but it’s worth it, if only as a dedication to all the black and brown kids growing up in the hood, who are not necessarily of the hood.
In inner-city life on film and in literature, the focus has always been on the Bigger Thomases—those imposing, doomed young men who get caught up in the system at an early age—ending up in prison or dead. But what about all the other kids who don’t fit the prototypical thug mode, that silent majority of goofy kids, loners, nerds, outsiders, geeks and weirdos, who don’t fit in anywhere and seek solace in nostalgia or sci-fi? They’re in the hood, too, dodging Bigger in hopes that he won’t steal their sneakers again.
Set in inner-city Los Angeles and written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Dope is a neat, little coming-of-age fairy tale set in the middle of an urban fable. In its lighthearted premise—a nerdy, sweet boy who loves ’90s hip-hop, high-top fades, skateboards, punk rock and cassette tapes—lies a dark world where even if you’re a goofy nerd, if you are black or brown, you, too, can get caught up via gangs, drugs, stereotypes, crappy public schools, poverty and gunplay.