Sydney Film Festival Reviewed

We reviewed some of the most buzzed films at this year's festival, including 'Dope', 'Ruben Guthrie', 'Gayby Baby' and 'Holding The Man'. Many were excellent. Some were not.

The Film That Will Frustrate You With Its Squandered Potential:


Dope, dir. Rick Famuyiwa

Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons

Reviewed by: Matt Roden

Dope begins, like every good school debate, with a definition of its title. It doesn’t get much more sophisticated from there. I don’t know the word to describe someone who didn’t know ‘dope’ meant both dummy and drugs, but if you were wowsered by that revelation, this is the film for you.

Dope has already travelled the global festival circuit, and gained raves and pans alike – but after seeing it I wonder why it’s been included at festivals at all. From Forrest Whitakers’ redundant voice over (“these three geeks loved shopping for records”, he tells us, as we watch them excitedly shop for records) to the film’s reheated mix of drugs, dealers and horny teens, nothing in Dope feels particularly new.

Malcolm and his friends are geeks. So intones the voice over, and well, maybe that pronouncement actually needed to be made. The central trio of the film are so hipster savvy in their looks and tastes that if this were any other film it would just be a music video. At its best, that’s what Dope is.

The parts of Dope that work are the parts where the cast ride their BMX’s through the Inglewood streets, cruising in hypercolour outfits to Pharrell jams. The parts that are the most interesting occur when the film skirts its way towards investigating what it means to be a young man in a mainstream inner-city culture that best celebrates the impulses of young boys. But every time Dope starts to present a point of view on these issues, it quickly dashes out the back entrance, all-the-better to begin a social media inspired montage about molly.

In the late ‘90s and early aughts, after the one-two hyper-pop articulation of Clerks and Pulp Fiction, came a dozen wannabe copycats. Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Go, Human Traffic and Garage Days all blended illegal escapades with catchy tunes, creating some easily digestible thrills for teens to vicariously consume via a trip to the video store. Dope feels like a total throwback to those days – from its overly chatty gangsters to its cartoony violence, all the way along to the retrograde lust interests. A losing virginity scene objectifies the female presence in a way that would make the makers of American Pie proud of their contributions to feminism. In the end, Dope maybe has something to say about race and racism and masculinity – but the film rarely takes a moment to actually listen to itself.

For fans of: Mark Ronson, General Pants, Instagram

Opening in Australia: August 20

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