First off, it is important that the definition of mope is clear: a mope is a person in the porn industry operating in the lowest possible positions, usually angling for a chance to make it big. This includes doing some truly gross, demeaning things. It’s also important to know that this film is based on a true story. For Nathan Stewart-Jarrett’s Steve Hill–he likes to be called Steve Driver–and Tom Dong (Kelly Sry), being a mope is okay. For a while, at least. The two meet at a bukkake film shoot and become fast friends. Directed by Lucas Heyne, Mope is an incredibly dark showbiz comedy that pulls no punches, for better or worse.

Thanks to Steve’s intense optimism and Tom’s IT savvy, the new duo land jobs as live-in mopes for Eric (Brian Huskey), a disgusting porn producer who runs a bottom-of-the-barrel studio. The tour of the place given to the newbies by Brian’s assistant Chris (Max Adler) is one of the highlights of the picture. Before long, our heroes are cleaning up cum and shit, playing bit parts in lo-fi porn set-ups and doing their best to impress wherever else they can. Steve convinces Tom that with help from his father (who he’s constantly calling and emailing), they can get the money to start their own porn studio. But after Steve blows a big chance to play in a legitimate porn video, directed by an auteur named Rocket (David Arquette, having fun), it all starts to go downhill fast.

There’s an obvious homage being made to Taxi Driver here, Heyne determined to find a similar kind of depth and tragedy in his leads. To his credit, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett is doing all he can. He plays it all over the place to a degree that’s frankly impressive. Kelly Sry does well in keeping up with his counterpart, serving as the reaction to Steve’s antics. Their relationship reaches a near unwatchable breaking point when Steve’s father and mother finally show up to speak with their son.

These are sad people in a sad situation. And while Heyne and company don’t appear intent on laughing at them, laughing with them doesn’t feel particularly grand either. This is harrowing content that is certainly not for everyone. To be fair, nobody involved in this picture seems conflicted by any of this. There’s an awareness of the kind of movie they’re making. Despite the strong lead performances, however, it all becomes too brutal to fully enjoy. The beats for a laugh are there, just not the laugh.

Mope premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

Follow our festival coverage here.

Grade: C+

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