Dope is an awkwardly funny coming of age epic that lies somewhere between Friday and Super Bad. It’s a very funny movie. But unlike the aforementioned movies it directly involves within its plot a number of relevant social issues. Don’t get me wrong, Friday and Super Bad also touch on some issues of social realities but they do not seek in any way to directly confront anything. They straightforwardly depict a slice of life epic that revolves around close friends navigating their relationships in a set environment. And those movies are very relatable for that reason. What makes Dope different is that it purposefully enters those realms of social relevancy and in direct fashion poses a sort of judgement on certain norms that persist in urban life. When I say urban reality you know exactly what the hell I am talking about. You know that I am talking about the “Hood” the “Ghetto” wherever. Urban is like the PC code term for black or latino impoverished areas. There are a number of movies that I love that parallel this reality for other ethnicities as well. There are so many of these movies made about people from the countryside, the ghetto, the projects, trailer parks, the barrios and generally all areas thought of as downtrodden and overlooked. And these movies tend to be good especially when they add authentic humor to the mix. Dope does this well. I also like how they really provide nuance to the stereotypical lives in the ghetto that is often portrayed in the media and other movies. The “hood” is not all filled with gang members, baby mamas and crack heads and athletes. There are geeks and nerds, and otakus and bookworms and fat kids and everything that you can find anywhere else. It’s all there; the same cliques and the same issues. People get bullied in private schools. Schools in affluent schools have been riddled with drug problems just as well. I thought that episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air where Will gets speed from the rich kids already taught us that. LOL. The point is that I love to see honest nuance. Not over the top, going out of your way to give everyone the exact opposite of the stereotype, but honest nuance and thoughtful storytelling. Dope delivers that but then at the end the film adds also an element of direct confrontation with the matter. Honestly, I haven’t decided if that felt to public announcement and over the top after school special for me but it doesn’t detract from the story itself.
Dope also delivers on a good underdog story. Suffice to say that through all of the difficulties the protagonists have to go through, they stick together and come out on top in the end using that gutter life folksy ingenuity that people have a propensity to like. Myself included. But one thing I can say about that folksy ingenuity in this movie is that it is different than is portrayed in other stories. In other movies of this ilk the protagonists are put in a bad situation and then generally use down and dirty, working class, hard nosed determination and often cruelty to win against more affluent foes. That is especially the case historically when you look at Black films dealing with drugs but this story is different. I say it was folksy ingenuity but it wasn’t really. In the case of Dope, the vehicle by which the protagonists succeed is simple intelligence. The kids were already smart asses and used there knowledge of technology to overcome their situation. I don’t mean to bring race into it but by in large, Black films tend to support more folksy and streety tactics in overcoming odds. It is usually white movies involving nerds in which the nerds or geeks overcome their predicament by outsmarting the situation with technology or intellect. Black films tend to prefer the use of cunning, guile and determination over sheer I.Q. But this movie, and I am happy that it does, blends white nerd movies with the Black film. And it is a funny ride.
I would really just like to add that we all have this odd sort of fascination with that hood, barrio, ghetto, slum or trailer park life while simultaneously being mortified by many of the things that come out of it. Why do you think World Star is so popular. It’s a kind of morbid fascination we have with poverty, war, hunger, desolation, and strife. And there is no fault in it so far as what you are truly enjoying is the narrative and the humanity. I think that looking at that sort of reality should teach us a great deal about life in general so I applaud creators who give people glimpses into these types of stories. Especially those who are able to maintain a humor about it. Because even in the most dire of situations, people still laugh, funny shit still happens. In the most dire circumstances and the most precarious existences young people are still deeply preoccupied with sex. They are still worried about how they look to their peers. They still think about the future. And I love it when a narrative work is able to capture the fun in hard times. And that is why I really liked this film.