Dope - Dope, ain't that dope - 2.25 stars

1. adj: cool, nice, awesome 
2. noun: a drug 
Walking into the cinema...
Intrigued? It looks like an urban, coming of age film, but not sure what to expect.  

Arthouse rating: 2.25 stars*
Cinematic rating: 2 stars
Big question opportunities: 3 stars  

                   Coming of age films can be a bit bewildering. Many of the stories within this category are meant to help audiences to see into a micro-culture and what life is like for those who live there. Yet, the narratives tend to centre on unbelievable events and situations. Many coming of age films should be realistically categorised as ‘coming of age in a world of the unbelievable.’ This accurately depicts Rick Famuyiwa’s (Our Family Wedding) film, Dope. Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker produces and narrates this tale of a nerd trio living in the post hip-hop era of The Bottoms in Inglewood, CA. Unlike many of the films that portray the ‘hood’ experience, Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is a leader of a geek trinity who is trying to survive in this world of gangsters and drugs dealers, while hoping to escape by applying to university, doing well on the SAT exam and successfully completing his entrance essay to Harvard. Within this humorous story of survival, the three friends get invited to an underground party that leads them to a set of life-changing events in the realm dealing boutique drugs. They have to make survival choices and find out how far they will go for love, acceptance and friendship. 
          The poor neighbourhoods of the world have provided great underdog stories and will for the foreseeable future. Dope provides the underdog story that contains wonderfully written characters that must find brilliant solutions to bizarre situations. They are square pegs that have a desire for acceptance, but due to their necessary bond of friendship they are comfortable in their own individuality. Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel), Kiersey Clemons (Eye Candy) provide an enjoyable central trinity. Their comedic timing and believability should be celebrated. Each situation provides another layer to each character's depth. In a less than appealing environment, they provide the reason to see what happens to them. Famuyiwa occasionally falls into the coming-of-age and urban genre cliches, but keeps the story moving forward to a unique conclusion. Even though the ending does get a bit preachy and diminishes the message of the film, it does not devalue the innovative story telling.
        This odd, but appealing storyline provides authentic characters within the portrayal of The Bottoms, but ultimately the lack of a moral centre fails the narrative. Originally, Malcolm seems to contain the moral character within himself to lift him out of his situations, but proves otherwise. Fumuyiwa's direction allows for justification of all behaviour, if it gets the central characters what they want in the end. They are put into exceptional situations, but that does not justify their behaviour or provide a positive message for youth going through the same life experiences. The originality characters provide a good story platform, but their decisions make for a distasteful message. Which leaves the sermonette at the end empty of any support. Ultimately, Dope, ain’t dope*. (Yo! That is about as close as I get to slang)  

Leaving the cinema...
Rick Famuyiwa worked well in bringing the world of The Bottoms to the screen. The rich characters and unique situations make for an interesting adventure. Yet, the story left me feeling like some of the character's portrayal of the day after a bender, asking the question, 'What just happened? It felt like fun at the time, but on evaluation it was not satisfying.' 

Reel Dialogue: What are the bigger questions to consider from this film? 
1. Do circumstances justify our actions? (Philippines 1:27, 1 Peter 2:23)
2. Where do we find our morals? (Matthew 7:12, 2 Timothy 3:15-16)
3. How far should we go to achieve our dreams? (Proverbs 6:6-11, James 4:13-14)

Written by Russell Matthews based on a five star rating system @ Russelling Reviews #russellingreviews #dopefilm