Friday Films: Dope & What Happened, Miss Simone?

Joel Defries reviews audience favourite at Sundance this year: Dope, currently in UK cinemas, and What Happened, Miss Simone? – a documentary about the musical legend Nina Simone…

Dope (dir. Rick Famuyiwa)

Dope will put a smile on your face. That’s a guarantee. It would come off the screen and tell you an inappropriate joke if technology permitted. It’s a musical powerhouse of a film, although produced by Pharrell and Sean ‘P-Diddy/Daddy’ Combs it could be little else.

Dope is a joy; it provides a stroll down a 90s hip-hop memory lane. The film centres on three outsiders from a tough neighbourhood in Inglewood. They’re self-professed nerds obsessed with 90s music and fashion.

The plot and soundtrack tick along nicely and 90s pop-culture references are aplenty, until our heroes accidentally get caught up in a drug sting and find enough MDMA in a bag to start a fully-fledged online drug ring.

Cue hilarity, car chases, Zoë Kravitz as a love interest, an A$AP Rocky cameo and some gratuitous nudity that adds nothing to the plot and bang! – you have yourself a movie.

The climax changes the tone, attempting to be social a commentary and subsequently confusing the narrative. However, by this point you’re rooting for our heroes so don’t care.

It’s worth a watch to reminisce about when you were in Year 7, watching Saved By The Bell before school and fancying Zac or Kelly… or both.

What Happened, Miss Simone? (dir. Liz Garbus)

Netflix is the film equivalent of that All You Can Eat Chinese Buffet you go to – where you think there is loads of stuff you’ll eat, but in fact all you really eat is the spring rolls and the rest is rubbish.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is a Netflix original, which is usually a safe bet (the ‘spring roll’), so would lead you to believe that you’re in for a treat. Alas, it’s not quite so…

The film is mostly talking heads, with interviews and old footage cut together in order to give a picture of who Nina Simone was. The narrative plots her arrival on the music scene up to her eventual death.

This was a woman who was truly talented, but deeply troubled. The film paints a detailed picture of Simone and gives a fair balance to both sides of her personality.

Overall I found it watchable – but I was yearning for more. By not diverting from the straight talking head formula, it made the flow feel stodgy and slow.

There were some enlightening pieces but overall I was left cold. One moment with Nina’s daughter is touching and almost makes up for the relative lack of depth this film offers.

If you were to compare it to the recent music bio Amy, you would find this film wanting in most areas, and lacking creativity. If you are a fan of Nina Simone then I suppose it will give you some nice music and good old footage, but if you want to see a musical doc – go see Amy.

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