I don’t quite know what I just saw, but I liked it. That’s the best way I can summarize the newly-released teaser for Dope, one of the most talked about films at Sundance this year. Rather than really show us much from the actual film, we’re introduced to the three main characters mostly by getting a quick glance at what appears to be the home pages of their respective blogs, yet we also see an onslaught of 90s nostalgia, like the main character’s recreation of the MC Hammer dance and someone playing a rad-looking Super Nintendo-esque video game. Is this a period piece, or some hip indie flick about current teenagers? It’s the latter, but you wouldn’t know that from the teaser:
Produced by Forest Whitaker and Puff Daddy and directed by Rick Famuyiwa (Talk to Me), Dope walked into Sundance an independent film and walked out of it with distribution deals with Open Road Films and Sony (who are splitting the domestic/international rights) for an upfront fee of $7 million plus a guaranteed $20 million in marketing and promotion. As the teaser says at the end, this is not going to be one those indies forced to do a day-and-date release on VOD and in limited theaters. It’s only playing in theaters, set to premiere on June 19, 2015.
I remember glancing at The Hollywood Reporter’s review of Dope during Sundance, but for whatever reason I didn’t actually read it. Now that I’ve seen the teaser I’m intrigued, yet debating whether to just let this movie surprise me or seek out some new information. For example, what is this even about? Who’s in it? Would you rather wait to find out? Well, stop reading right now, and remember to look up come late June to see if Dope is playing in a theater near you.
Want a little more information? Okay. According to THR’s review, Dope is set in the director’s hometown of Inglewood, Calif., and focuses on three nerdy kids who look like runaways from the 1990s, led by a breakout performance from Shameik Moore as Malcom. His partners in geekiness are Jib (played by Tony Revolori, the bellboy from The Grand Budapest Hotel) and butch lesbian Diggy (played by Transparent’s Kiersey Clemons). The three of them love ‘90s hip-hop and other “shit white people like,” such as “Donald Glover and good grades.” They have a garage band together, but the main plot involves them somewhat hilariously becoming the concerned owners of a huge stash of drugs. The rest of the cast is “culled from comedy, rap, TV, and modeling,” with maybe the most recognizable name being Zoe Kravitz as Malcolm’s love interest.
If you glance at RottenTomatoes’ pull-quotes from the 9 current Dope reviews you see phrases like “every editorial trick in the book, from split-screen to freeze-frames” and “Like an urban Risky Business” and “A fast-paced throwback that is a little like a mix of House Party and Boyz n the Hood” and “It’s about kids who we’re generally not asked to care about: a cast almost entirely made up of actors of colour.”
That last one really stands out to me. The director, Famuyiwa, was just quoted in an Entertainment Weekly article about the state of racial diversity in the films Hollywood makes, “Putting diverse faces on screen is the most American thing you can do. Throughout history, what’s distinguished this country-by force or choice-is that we’re a nation of immigrants from vastly different cultures. The clash and celebration of that is who we are.” He appears to have done just that with Dope, which comes off as a less racially-focused cousin to one of last year’s Sundance hits, Justin Simien’s Dear White People.
This looks like it will be a film worth seeing. Do you agree? Is there not nearly enough in this teaser to jump to that conclusion?