To be employed as a mope is to enter the adult film industry at the lowest possible rung of the ladder. That’s what we learn from the get-go in this pitch-black comedy-drama from writer/director Lucas Heyne. Mopes are the guys who get to be in scenes, if they’re lucky, and then have the luxury of tidying up the mess on set afterwards. They are paid little and respected even less. It doesn’t appear to be the most exceptional example of job satisfaction. Still, for these two guys, it’s the very first step towards potentiallybecoming the next Ron Jeremy.
Based on true events, the film follows the fates of wannabe porn actors Steve Driver (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Misfits) and Tom Dong (Kelly Sry, Awkward), who made headlines in America when Driver attacked Dong on set with a samurai sword. As they enter the world of low-budget fetish porn, neither men are particularly good looking or charismatic, but boy, are they all full of determination. This determination, mostly fuelled by Driver’s desire to prove himself to his father, seems to make the men invulnerable to the abuse they receive from porn director Eric (Brian Huskey). Even when Eric gleefully films them getting kicked in the genitals by ‘cheerleaders’, Driver remains hopeful that this is just phase 1 of a two-phase plan towards stardom.
This painful introduction to the adult movies is mostly played for laughs like a dirty version of The Disaster Artist. Like Tommy Wiseau, Driver and Dong fail to let their lack of talent get in the way. Of course, this enthusiasm erodes over time before something in Driver eventually snaps.
A film of two halves, Albo, like Eric, welcomes his audience with open arms before pummelling them in the feels. The very things that come across as absurd and bleakly humorous mutate into merely bleak when it starts becoming apparent that Driver is destined for nothing more than mopping faeces up off a fake prison set. Albo doesn’t always manage to balance the dark with the light, however. As Driver, Stewart-Jarrett manages to bring a vulnerability to his character that offers up more dignity than was given to the real Driver in the press. At the same time, the film never hides the fact that the wannabe actor brought a lot of emotional baggage with him into Dong’s life.
It’ll come as no surprise to read that Mope is nihilistic in tone with the potential to be the feel-bad film of the year. A downer is one thing, but there are, however, somewhat problematic flavours to the aftertaste that are hard to ignore. Take, for example, an unnecessarily long scene that sees Driver unwillingly invite a woman he’s just met into a porno scene under Eric’s direction. The woman, desperate for drugs and berating herself throughout, is sexually assaulted by the actors on set. It’s an ugly scene made uglier by the fact that the focus is on Driver, rather than the victim. The poor woman is seemingly forgotten about in the film as soon as the scene is over, effectively ‘fridging’ her for Driver’s advancement. In a film about exploitation, this feels decidedly exploitative.
As directorial debuts go, however, this is a strong piece of work with an utterly bizarre story at its centre. It seems foolhardy to say you’ll have a good time, but Mope will offer you a potent glimpse into a world many are unlikely to have seen before.
SCREEN REALM SCORE: ★★★✩✩
‘Mope’ is available digitally from June 16.