In Rick Famuyiwa’s subversive coming-of-age misadventure comedy, three high school “90s hip hop geeks” get mixed up in drug trafficking and learn some lessons along the way. Though exec-produced by Pharrell Williams, it’s not what you think – there’s real heart here. And caps must be doffed to the doe-eyed lead Malcolm (Shameik Moore) and his friend Diggy (Kiersey Clemons), both effortlessly charming big-screen debuts.
With John Hughes cited as direct inspiration, the misfit narrative is tastefully painted, and though potted with familiar tropes, these slingshot the action with directorial nous. It’s an otherwise fresh romp, and the premise – geeks sell drugs at school – might anticipate something cringe-worthy (goofy Snapchat deals with drug emojis?), but when there’s talk of Tor networks and Bitcoin you realise Famuyiwa’s done his homework.
A smart bag of references, to both modern meme culture and bygone music and movies, Dope is neither pastiche nor misty-eyed nostalgia. In one telling exchange, A$AP Rocky’s character tells our protagonist, “The 90s also gave us Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, and the Fresh Prince.” Word. It’s time for a new era.