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Sundance 2019 Film Review: “Mope” (2019) ★★★★★


Movies are meant to capture reality in any form whether we find it too cheesy, romantic, emotional, violent, gruesome, graphic, and so on. We simply can’t ask the film to please us, as all that’s required from us is to join the world that’s being captured and become a part of its pace. “Mope” is not one of those films that you can easily watch till the end. In fact, you may leave after the first ten minutes, and that’s totally fine. Because you won’t be the first or the last one who will walk out of the screening. But the biggest reward you will get towards the end once you get to the conclusion will totally be worth it.

“Mope” follows two friends, Tom Dong (Kelly Sry) and Steve Driver (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), who have the biggest dream ever to become famous actors – porn actors. They not only want to get access to women, but they also want to be on the cover of magazines, have lots of fans, and a ridiculously big house. As they begin on the quest to launch their film career as actors, they join a small production that requires an unconventional approach to the porn world and delivering something truly groundbreaking. But it will take them too long to realize that, in reality, it’s just another tragic story that never planned to have a happy ending.

The entire film is based on an absurd true story that I could not believe actually happened. Whether you want it or not, the first thirty minutes of the film will appear so ridiculously funny that it will be too hard to take it seriously. But that laughter will disappear as soon as you get deep into the nature explored in the film and how sad it is. Steve is the biggest dreamer of all. He thinks that he has not only acting ability but that he can be a King in the porn industry. However, not even a single idea he proposes fructifies and is treated with ridicule. Tom Dong is seemingly much smarter than Steve, however, he falls for Steve’s grand ideas and follows him as all loyal friends should be doing.

Scenes that you will be seeing in which Steve is unable to fulfill his role during another porn film shooting is quite something. He films himself, takes pictures, and sends it to his father so he can be proud of his son for being a great porn actor. It’s that very moment when we notice that Steve has mental issues which he has no idea about or just denies it. Tom is the sweetheart in the team. Being a techie helps him to get a permanent job in the film industry, however, he refuses to accept it if his dearest friend Steve won’t be with him.

You, my most valuable reader, must be prepared for an extremely graphic film, while the closing scene will be too much to process. But before you get yourself into the theater, please ask yourself, how do you expect the porn industry or films about the tragic path of a porn actor should be captured? Should the film be too balanced and censored? If yes, then look on the other side, how balanced it is in a real porn film? Exactly. Directed by Lucas Heyne, this film does not try to be apologetic, nice, or easy going. The director knows perfectly well there’s no easy way to dramatize what happened in real life or even describe the porn scenes. Of course, even to pull it off he would require actors that would be willing not only to expose themselves but break the barriers and go beyond who they are in order to become the most difficult characters they will ever get a chance to portray.

The performances in “Mope” is shockingly real. It’s so captivating that I could not believe the entire cast was based on real actors. Every single one of them should get credit for what they have done in the film. It was extremely challenging and for that, they should be proud of themselves. Nathan-Stewart Jarrett as a broken, deeply troubled, and as an obsessively inspired porn actor is simply fantastic. Honestly speaking, the way he portrayed Steve Driver deserves a standing ovation. The same credit must go to Kelly Sry as Steve’s life partner, best friend and port actor, Tom Dong, who helped us to raise many questions throughout, how could Tom Dong manage to stay that long with Steve?

Another credit for a brave and outstanding performance must go to Tonya Cornelisse as Tampa, a woman that is never sober either from alcohol or drugs. Her psychical transformation is so real, I was expecting her to collapse any moment due to her health condition that is, as it appears, declining or just getting there. Her close-ups during the gangbang scene were hard to watch, but in the meantime, hard to take your eyes off as well.

In the end, “Mope” may appear as a comedy, but it’s more of a tragicomedy. As it tries to retell a true story, the director is forced to make a hard choice but eventually made the right one. Despite loads of nudity, sex scenes, and coarse language, it touches upon the price newcomers have to pay in order to become famous. That obsession to be known is not normal. And that’s why this film leaves normality aside and leaves the viewer alone to witness an unfathomable but a devastating true story. And don’t worry about the film or its harsh subject, if you are able to handle the beginning, you should be able to process the ending in the same way. Even though I admit, it’s going to be harder to do in real life. But give it a chance and wait for the film to play its part so you can be proud of yourself for sitting through it until the screen fades to black.

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