Director: Olivia Milch
Screenplay: Olivia Milch
Starring: Lucy Hale, Kathryn Prescott, Alexandra Shipp, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Austin Butler, Michaela Watkins
Runtime: 97 Minutes
There's a lot of criticism to be levied at the unfolding drama of high school life in teen movies, specifically regarding the final days of youth leading up to the inevitable dates of prom and graduation. The overwhelming majority of these narratives tend to focus themselves almost entirely on the fight or flight response of young adults taking chances and making decisions that they feel will have drastic consequences for the rest of their lives. When in actuality it's more of a mild milestone where memories are formed and will eventually fall into the backdrop of our youth despite the heavy teenage drama placing a ticking clock over proceedings.
Dude falls into a similar vein but goes about its narrative with a great deal more subtly than might be expected. Four best friends negotiate loss and major life changes during the last two weeks of high school, following a year on from the death of somebody close to their friendship group.
Prom and graduation feel like the narrative destination, but the film as a whole is very aware of its status as a stepping stone for greater things. But what saturates and pulsates from the film is the vivid sense of fun and of the moment enjoyment that many films like it might restrict to final montages.
What's significantly different as well is the excessive drug use that the group of young women frequently partake in. Much like Blockers, the film never judges the characters for their recreational decisions and neither do the parents for the most part. It's commonly aware of the uses and effects of drugs as a mood elevator, but doesn't actually detach itself entirely from the reality of the consequences. Be them from law enforcement or dizzying heart palpitations as a trip goes the wrong way.
What keeps the whole thing hooked and grounded are the characters. A diverse cast of supremely talented young women led by Lucy Hale showing some unsung range and humanity that was sourly missing from her performance in Truth or Dare. The girls come from different backgrounds, with their own problems and ties to one another but all share the baggage of their personal loss as well as the sinking feeling that they may diverge as soon as high school is over.
If there's one downside, it feels like the initial dramatic jumping off point of the death of their partner, brother and friend could have used some more fleshing out. He's a presence for the first 5 mins before he disappears, and while we get a sense of who he was before his untimely death from the way people speak about him, it would have been nice to have seen first hand more of what they were talking about. Then again, he's not the real focus of the story. That being the dynamic between the leads.
Writer/director Olivia Milch makes her debut here (her later work on Ocean's 8 materialising later this year), and she has a great attention to detail and a naturalistic and very funny bite to her dialogue and representations of drug use, sex and the realities of the future slowly creeping up on them.
Dude is an unsung surprise that really holds the attention of the viewer as much as it holds together is a terrific cast of stars. All of whom have unquestionably bright futures in the business if their work here is anything to go on. It's sweet, relatable and is fractionally enjoyable that uses the slightness of its premise to its advantage.