“Coming of age” films are always one of the more difficult genres of movie to make due to the inevitable fact that there will be at least one annoying cliché about growing up and being yourself. The worst movies are riddled with these overused clichés and are obnoxiously preachy on top of that as well. It seems that in the most recent years the best “coming of age” films have been independent films that typically move about in the film festival circuit. Joe, Mud, Kings of the Summer, The Spectacular Now, An Education, and Perks of Being a Wallflower are all among the best coming of age films to have been released in recent years and none of them, except for Perks of Being a Wallflower, were close to being a commercial success. It seems that the independent films are better at taking this tired and wary concept and putting a more original/unique twist to it. So the question remains: how does Dope stack up?
Just by watching the film, you can feel the sense of originality that the film possesses as it strolls about displaying this sort of modern, yet slightly retro, style that we don’t often see in movies these days. The movie’s style is a fun and exuberant feeling that isn’t typically associated with the setting that we find our main characters in. Giving the setting, you’d expect to see a similar style to that of “Straight Outta Compton,” the new N.W.A. movie coming out in August. Instead, we get a refreshingly new take on an environment that we think we understand solely through the messages portrayed in the media. The plot in and of itself is also relatively unique because I can’t think of the last time I saw a movie about a geeky black guy from a dangerous neighborhood who ends up having to become a drug dealer. We can all relate to Malcolm’s situation in some sort of way by reminiscing to a time when we were thrust into a strange, new environment and didn’t exactly know how to compose ourselves in the right manner. Malcolm serves as a brilliant metaphor for the innocence of youth and his actions brilliantly portray a unique passage of change into adulthood.
The movie does have some small faults, I will admit. First and foremost, there are a lot of separate plotlines that are stuffed into its modest runtime, so much so that it may seem like it doesn’t exactly know which is the right path to follow, leading it into a confusing circle where it ends up getting almost overwhelmed by itself. By the end, though, it does a good job of tying up all the important aspects of the story and stays true to its meaning and purpose. It’s incredibly ambitious in everything that happens, but then again so is the film’s main character, so it never feels like it’s out of place at all. Once the movie reaches its end, however, you realize that most of the seemingly excessive storylines were all necessary in order to help Malcolm go where he needed to be in order to realize who he truly was and wanted to become. There are a couple of other things I didn’t like about the plot, but they’re so minor that they are easily overshadowed by what the film does right.
Overall the film is always entertaining and overly charismatic in a way that makes it stand out from the rest of the crowd. Yes, there are a couple of cliché themes in it and a very obvious reference to Trayvon Martin, causing it to be slightly preachy for a split second, albeit timely in certain manner as well. The clichés aren’t so obnoxious that they drew attention away from what makes the movie great. Full of vibrant and tender emotion, Dope seems to get by just fine under the smart, and somewhat brash, direction of Famuyiwa. The ensemble cast was brilliant to watch and the film does a fantastic job of giving a raw and fresh depiction of the original viewpoint that is Malcolm’s life. It may not rank up with Perks of Being a Wallflower or Mud, but it still deserves to be included in the aforementioned list of the better “coming of age” films as of late.
Dope (2015): 3/4 stars.