MOPE – Review
Review by Stephen Tronicek
Lucas Heyne’s Mope starts with a familiar phrase: “The film you are about to see is based on actual events. Out of respect to the deceased, every effort has been made to adhere to the facts.” Those familiar with the history of cinema will recognize this as similar to the opening credits to the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. It is also a fair sign that Mope won’t really ever have an identity of its own, even as it tries to tell a true story.
That true story is that of Stephen Clancy Hill, alias Steve Driver (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and Herbert Wong, alias Tom Dong (Kelly Sry), two low-level pornstars (Mopes), who tried to break into the industry. After being subjected to the horrible conditions of this side of the porn industry (there is after all good sex-work around) and facing his own mental illness, Driver killed Wong with a samurai sword.
That story, while horrifying, is not terrible for adaptation. It’s an opportunity to explore the way that people interact with pornography and show the causes and effects that come from the abuses that Driver both took and gave out over his time within an industry that is sometimes abusive. Unfortunately, Mope doesn’t do a very good job of breaking down the nuance of the characters or the industry they inhabit beyond a sickening surface level.
Instead, Mope desires to steal its tone from the laidback misogynist comedies of the 90s and early 2000s, its breakdowns from the work of Paul Schrader, and it’s enterprising spirit from the only other good narrative movie made about porn, turning into the horrible lovechild of Clerks, Dog Eat Dog and Boogie Nights. When the opening scene starts blaring “The Flight of the Valkyries,” you pretty much know what you’re in for. When it presents an obviously abusive workspace as quite funny, it gets worse.
Sure, there are elements of commentary to be found in all of this, but they are at best muddled and at worst extremely underwritten. This especially becomes a problem when the film handles Steve Driver’s mindset and its mindset towards pornography in general. While Mope does manage to capture elements of Driver’s subjectivity, it doesn’t ever make him feel deeper than shocking. The same goes for its display of the pornography industry. There isn’t much nuance to it. Misogyny and toxicity spoil a large portion of it, but it’s also important to highlight the good aspects of the sex-work industry. The early joy that Driver shows for the industry is a glimpse of this. The rest of the movie isn’t. It may not be the film’s goal to highlight that, but since it’s willing to play the bad aspects (misogyny, racism) for straight laughs, it doesn’t earn its commentary.
Mope is a tragic story told tragically. While some of the performances are good, the camera work and the script don’t do them justice. The film succeeds at being sad, sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. It’s offensive, awful, and makes you feel like you need a bath and can’t even manage to be original while it does that.