You’ve seen “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and “Jurassic World.” Though you concede they are all thrilling and visually stunning, you’re still searching for movies this summer with a little bit more … story.
Thankfully there are two movies in theatres that can help feed that need.
Alfonso Gomez-Rejon‘s “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” and Rick Famuyiwa‘s “Dope” on the surface look like two very different movies, from where they’re set to dialogue and characters. But they have a lot in common.
Both films played at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and walked away with awards (for “Me and Earl” the prestigious Audience Award and Grand Jury prizes, and for “Dope” best editing), they both look at modern-day high-school life, and they have both been thrust in the middle of the summer blockbuster season (“Me and Earl” is in theatres; “Dope” opens Friday).
Distributors Fox Searchlight (“Me and Earl”) and Open Road Films (“Dope”) are using the classic counter-programming manoeuvre in the hopes that audiences who aren’t into Hollywood blockbusters, or by mid-June are ready for something new, will give these indie darlings a try.
This was a play Searchlight had success with when releasing the cult comedy “Napoleon Dynamite” in mid-June 2004.
Building off the success of the film-festival circuit without a star or name director, the film had an impressive opening weekend take of $US117,000 and went on to have a total domestic gross of over $US44 million (the film’s budget was around $US400,000).
In its opening weekend “Me and Earl” took in similar numbers with over $US196,000.
For this weekend, “Dope” is also getting creative in their purchase options, allowing tickets to be purchased via Bitcoin, making it the first time digital currency has ever been allowed for ticket sales.
But strategic placement and gimmicks aside, the movies are strong enough to grab the attention of even the most dedicated Hollywood blockbuster moviegoer.
In “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” we follow the senior year of outsider Greg (Thomas Mann). With a daily existence that includes staying friendly with all the different cliques at his Pittsburgh high school (but not committed to any) and making ultra-low-budget knocks-offs of classic films with his buddy Earl (RJ Cyler), Greg’s priorities change when he befriends Rachel (Olivia Cooke), a classmate who has recently been diagnosed with cancer.
The story has a been-there-done-that feel, but the style is a fresh one to the high-school dramedy genre with its creative use of stop-motion animation and high IQ in movie geekdom.
“Dope” is set in the Inglewood neighbourhood (known to those who live there as “The Bottoms”) of Los Angeles and follows another geek, Malcolm (Shameik Moore), and his two friends Jib (Tony Revolori) and Diggy (Kiersey Clemons).
Unlike Greg and Earl, who have zero aspirations, Malcolm and his crew have high hopes for the future. Keeping away from the gang culture of South Los Angeles and completely obsessed with ’90s hip-hop, their main goal is to leave the ‘hood and get into college, especially Malcolm, who has aspirations to attend Harvard.
But things get complicated when Malcolm goes to the party of the neighbourhood drug dealer and unknowingly leaves with drugs. Malcolm and friends then embark on an adventure through LA to get rid of the goods.
If you listened to hip-hop in the ’90s, you will likely love “Dope.”
It’s filled with nostalgic tracks from A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Public Enemy, Digital Underground, and Naughty By Nature, curated by executive producer Pharrell Williams. They are perfectly placed and elevate the enjoyment of the story that’s part “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” part “Friday.”
What both films exemplify is that movies with strong stories (and without massive explosions) can survive in the summer months. Whether the hook is geek culture, or a killer soundtrack, once you’re watching, it’s the excellent crafting of these characters by Gomez-Rejon and Famuyiwa that keep you engrossed for the next few hours.
This weekend, take a break from the CGI-fuelled blockbusters and check out one of these films instead.
And if you need more convincing, here are the trailers for both films.
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