The term “dope” has officially sold out. A word that once had so much punch and attitude, a long-established mainstay in the ever shifting landscape of urban linguistic codes, is probably being uttered somewhere, at this very moment, by Taylor Swift. Go ahead, try saying “cool” at a millennial soirée and you’ll be met by scornful glares reminding you that our generation has sooo moved on from such antiquated idioms. Cool is wack. Dope is king. Dope, dope, dope.
So perhaps it’s only fitting that a teen comedy being hailed as a generational touchstone be called just that: Dope. But don’t get me wrong, Dope is not your run-of-the-mill teen comedy, and if anything it speaks to a markedly different sensibility brewing in our generational crock-pot. Let’s start with the classic teen comedy formula: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Can’t Hardly Wait and American Pie have clearly taught us that the average American teen is an upper-middle class, white suburbanite nerd who, in an unlikely feat of aspirational self-vindication, becomes inexplicably cool and/or has a sexual encounter with an impossibly good looking girl.
Dope is kind of like that, except it takes place in Inglewood, specifically in one of California’s most notorious high crime hoods: The Bottoms. From the get-go it sounds like a perfect setup for a Boyz n the Hood-style reflection on poverty and violence, but writer-director Rick Famuyiwa is not interested in sermonizing about inner city ills. He grew up in Inglewood and knows that amidst the shootouts, drug dealing, and gangsta posturing (which Dope has plenty of), there’s a bunch of perfectly normal kids with perfectly normal teen aspirations. And that’s a big statement.
Ivy League hopeful Malcom (Shameik Moore, The Get Down), proud lesbian tomboy Diggy (Kiersey Clemmons), and “14% black” Latino homie Jib (played by Orange County Guatemalteco Tony Revolori of The Grand Budapest Hotel) are fanatics of 90s hip hop, BMX biking, and also happen to play in a punk band together. In other words, they’re objects of ridicule in their working class hood. But a backpack full of ecstasy could very well change their fortunes; that is, if they manage to sell it all without getting caught, or having their Ivy League acceptances revoked along the way.
It’s a plotline that will doubtless have members of polite society gasping in shock and squirming uncomfortably in their seats, but Dope is put together with heaps of style, intelligence, and adolescent innocence, not to mention a soundtrack featuring a original songs by Pharrell (who apparently ghostwrites for the trio’s punk band), as well as supporting performances by A$AP Rocky, model Chanel Iman, and up-and-comer Quincy Brown (who happens to be Al B. Sure’s biological son and P. Diddy’s adopted son.)
Some of us may already be more than a decade out of high school, but in a strange way it feels like this one’s for us.
Update 5/22/2015: Check out the new Red Band trailer that dropped today.