Review: “White Boy Rick” fails to engage beyond glamorizing the ’80s drug scene

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“White Boy” Rick Wershe Jr.’s story is quite remarkable: He became an FBI informant and then a drug dealer all before his 16th birthday.

But director Yann Demange’s version of the events isn’t remarkable at all. Instead, it’s a run-of-the-mill gangster/drug film.


(Trailer courtesy of IMDb.)

The title “White Boy Rick” would imply that there are a lot of racial issues to unpack in this film. However, the screenplay only brushes over what race relations looked like in America the ’80s.

Rick Jr. gets his nickname by being the only white guy involved in a black drug gang. The drug scene here is portrayed as an alien world dominated solely by African Americans where a person like Rick Jr. is basically a tourist, ensnared by luxuries that a person from his socioeconomic background wouldn’t otherwise have access to. The film expects us to take Rick Jr.’s story at face value without giving us the opportunity to explore any deeper.

The film glorifies criminal activity, glamorizing the extravagance and power that comes with it and tries to justify why Rick Jr. would want to seek this way of life. Almost all members of the black gang get arrested and sent to prison and so does Rick Jr.

However, it’s implied that the black gang-bangers got what they deserved when we’re asked to sympathize with Rick Jr.’s life sentence.

I was impressed by Richie Merritt as Rick Jr., and Matthew McConaughey as Rick Sr., who give stand out performances. Merritt was cast after a scout visited his high school, and from interviews, you can see how his natural swagger helped him get the role. His chemistry with McConaughey is undeniable. Their attention to each other and the bond they create seeps through the whole film, but that’s about as much praise as I can give.

Verdict

For those of you expecting “White Boy Rick” to be like “Goodfellas,” also based on a true story, don’t get your hopes up. While it has its problems, the film, in general, is okay, but it’s not a career-defining role for anyone.

5/10