Dude is a collaboration between relative newcomers Kendall McKinnon and Olivia Milch. Both women created the story while Milch took the helm as a first-time director. This dynamic pairing and a story about female friendship made me eager to give this Netflix Original my undivided attention.
The story follows four high school girls as they navigate the loss of a friend from their group, and deal with life as they approach their upcoming high school graduation. Lucy Hale plays Lily, the hyper-organized and controlling Student Council President. Kathryn Prescott portrays Chloe. Chloe’s character is the one most affected by the loss at the story’s beginning and throughout she questions the path her life should take. Alexandra Shipp brings Amelia to life as the outspoken friend hurt by the way the men in her life treat her. Rounding out the ensemble is Awkwafina as Rebecca, the philosophy lover whose romantic desires lie just out of reach. Each woman does a wonderful job playing her respective role. This group also has great chemistry, and they are believable friends. They felt like real high school students attending a prestigious magnet school, and their interactions are a breath of fresh air, especially when compared to the typical portrayal of high school girls.
The side characters add a layer of realism to the story as well. Alex Wolff is Noah, a junior who will replace Lily as Student Council President after she graduates. His obsession with Lily feels very typical of a high school boy, the kind who admires a girl he feels is unobtainable but is going to try anyway. This obsession comes across as more cute than creepy because he doesn’t cross the boundaries Lily sets. When Lily isn’t so nice to him later in the story, his frustrated reaction is natural. Another great character is Sam, Chloe’s love interest, played by Jerry MacKinnon. He is the epitome of cool high school senior with a sweet side. The moment when he makes a casual joke asking Chloe out, and then comes back later to say he meant it, is surely a typical occurrence in high schools around the country. Even when Chloe is unsure about going to prom or pursuing other avenues, he says he’ll wait for her. It was refreshing to see nice high school boys without an extra sinister layer.
The only discernible flaw in this movie is the choice of music played within some of the party scenes. It’s easy to see that this story is set in contemporary times, you just have to look at the students’ cellphones. However, most of the music was from the early 2000s. It makes sense that some songs might cross generational boundaries, but a few more contemporary songs would have made those scenes feel more authentic. Considering how genuine the rest of the movie felt, those moments took me out of the story.
Despite the subject matter, this movie has a lot of heart. Though the focus of the movie is the party habits of high school students, including copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, the plot resists falling into soap opera-esque melodrama. Even the most tragic situations feel grounded in reality, and the overall message is pretty optimistic.
Dude made me feel hopeful for the future of smaller budget filmmaking on the digital platform. It’s a tight story with great acting and a good message that isn’t moralistic.
4.5 / 5