Dope (2015)

(Video on Demand, December 2015)  Oh, the joys of being married to a cinephile with slightly different tastes!  I’m not sure I would have looked at Dope had my wife not selected it as our Saturday Night Movie, and that would have missing on a happy discovery: A playful blend of comedy, ghetto awareness, geek-chic, hip-hop soundtrack and fizzy directing, Dope features a black nerd protagonist pushed into crime as a path to higher learning.  It’s got substance, style, hilarious moments and heartfelt observations about the American racial divide.  Shameik Moore is immediately likable as the film’s protagonist, but the ensemble cast works just as well with the material.  Still, the real star here is writer/director Rick Famuyiwa, who manages to bring together hood references with a geek sensibility, delivering a lively film that changes stylistic gears every so often (from narration to breaking the fourth wall, to rewinding in time to explain a strange visual) and keeps things interesting throughout.  There’s some good comedy mixed with the heartfelt social concerns but the combination of geek culture with hood circumstances feels unique, and as a computer nerd I couldn’t find much at fault in the film’s use of technological jargon.  The soundtrack couldn’t be better (fittingly enough, it seems to be only available digitally) and it works both as a collection of songs as well as a reinforcement for what’s happening on-screen.  The ending sequence may be a bit too on-the-nose, but it earns its own earnestness through self-aware storytelling that manages to do interesting things with well-worn elements. 

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