PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Punk rock, Bitcoin, '90s hip-hop, BMX bikes, street thugs and Harvard come together in "Dope," a wonderfully fresh, thoughtful and music-filled coming-of-age story.
Writer-director Rick Famuyiwa ("The Wood") introduces audiences to a stellar cast of relative newcomers in the film that spawned a fierce bidding war after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Open Road Films won domestic distribution rights, but no release date has been announced.
The story centers on Malcolm (Shameik Moore), a good student and self-professed geek. When he's not in class or playing in a punk band with his similarly outcast best friends (Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori), he's dodging the school bullies who would steal his shoes and the drug dealers in his Los Angeles-area neighborhood who would steal his dreams of going to Harvard.
The trouble-averse trio is sucked into the very world they've always been careful to avoid after sneaking into the birthday party of one of the neighborhood thugs (A$AP Rocky). Suddenly, these straight-A students are saddled with a massive stash of drugs, navigating their way through a cast of dangerous and colorful characters — all while preparing for the SATs and sending out college applications.
Malcolm's teachers know he's bright but accuse him of being "arrogant" to think he can get into Harvard. The thugs think he's soft and easily manipulated. One young woman (Zoe Kravitz) comes closest to seeing who he really is.
"The film is in many ways about perception," Famuyiwa said. "It's about the perception of who this kid is versus who he really is, and many of those perceptions come from his neighborhood, his race, from outside society and even from within from his own guidance counselor. There are challenges that are both overt and subtle that you have to deal with as a kid of color."
A graduate of the University of Southern California who grew up in the Inglewood, California, neighborhood depicted in the film, Famuyiwa honed his talents at the Sundance Institute's writers and directors labs.
Though the film isn't autobiographical, Famuyiwa said, "Malcolm is me, ... that kid who doesn't quite fit."
"Dope" is enhanced by its excellent and diverse soundtrack, from the '90s hip-hop the main characters favor to original, catchy punk songs written by Pharrell Williams, who is a producer of the film. Forest Whitaker was also a producer and serves as a narrator.
While the setting is the tough inner city and the cast is mostly black, the story is universal: Anyone who has ever felt like a book judged by its cover will see themselves in Malcolm and his friends.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at http://twitter.com/APSandy .