In the Netflix Original film, “Dude,” writer and director Olivia Milch explores life after high school through a haze of pot smoke. The 4/20 release tackles complicated concepts such as grief, growing up and sex positivity in a southern California town.
“Dude” begins at the end of childhood for Lily (Lucy Hale), as her best friend Chloe (Kathryn Prescott) mourns the death of her brother, Thomas (Austin Butler). Joined by the rest of their female power posse, Rebecca (rapper-turned-actress Awkwafina) and Amelia (Alexandra Shipp), the girls embark on the last two weeks of their senior year, coming to terms with different fashions of grief and growing up through the loss of Thomas — all with a little help from their friend, Mary Jane.
There is one major issue with the film, which becomes apparent when taking stock of the characters presented. Lily, Chloe and Amelia all clearly come from wealthy families, while Rebecca’s family is not so fortunate. During discussions of college over a blunt, the three wealthy girls display no stress or anxiety at the prospect of higher education, while Rebecca is depicted as only being concerned with financing her education.
This creates a disparity in the dimension of the characters, where the wealthy girls are allowed to be complex, powerful women making decisions about their education on a whim, while Rebecca is given little screen time where she is not agonizing over financial aid and the student loan system. This one-dimensional view of a character which many students will be able to identify with does a disservice to the film.
Milch’s writing in this film makes a powerful statement of the effects of grief. Each of the girls remembers their friend and brother in a different way, with Lily becoming a Type-A control freak to avoid another loss and Chloe just trying to live life the way she believes her brother would have. With so many negative or blown-out depictions of grief in film, Milch’s humane approach affords us a view of healthy and unhealthy forms of grief.
The feminist message of “Dude” is not limited to a girls-only club. The male characters find acceptance in their non-conformity to standards of masculinity in pursuit of a true depiction of feminism, setting it apart from the “girl-power” sub-genre. The film’s focus on consent, the value of women beyond traditional standards and the empowerment of sensitive men subverts expectations of what a feminist film should be. It’s heartening to see the central male characters, including Noah (Alex Wolff), Sam (Jerry MacKinnon) and Mr. Bemis (Satya Bhabha), empowered to be the best version of themselves just as often as their female co-stars.
Although some of its characterization leaves something to be desired and much of the comedy revolves around the antics of characters high on marijuana and ecstasy (not at the same time), “Dude” remains a genuinely powerful coming-of-age film and a valuable addition to feminist cinema.
- Running Time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: TV-MA
- Score: 3.5/5