Lucas Heyne // 2019 // USA // Psychological drama, Thriller, Buddy comedy // 105 min // Parkside Pictures
Cast: Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Kelly Sry, Brian Huskey, Max Adler, David Arquette, Tonya Cornelisse, Clayton Rohner
Language: English // Subtitles: None // Out of competition // TW: explicit sexual content
“Here’s to the ones who dream / Foolish as they may seem,” sings an impassioned Mia in La La Land’s audition scene. At that moment, she is unknowingly on the cusp of realizing all her actorly ambitions. She is, of course, a fictional character doing so within the confines of a Hollywood fantasy. But what of the real world and of dreams feverishly pursued yet ultimately denied because they were and always had been unattainable? What of the dangers of self-delusion – when sustained wishful thinking in fact signals a total removal from reality and a lack of perspective hints at an underlying mental condition?
Mope drops us a stone’s throw away from the phony glitz of the Hollywood hills, into the underbelly of the San Fernando Valley where we deep-dive into the unglamorized world of low-budget, fetishistic porn filmmaking and meet the wannabe male talents who would do just about anything – ball-busting included! – for a shot at adult entertainment fame. A story of friendship and great aspiration, partially built on misguided notions of masculinity, Mope follows Tom Dong (Kelly Sry) and Steve Driver (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) as they try to make a name for themselves at Ultima DVD – a quest Steve believes will help him find a girlfriend, but ends in humiliation and true-crime horror.
Lucas Heyne’s audacious debut is never a self-serving provocation that contents itself with whipping up shock value. Instead, accurately based on the tragic events that involved real people, Mope remains an unpredictable rollercoaster that confronts viewers with harsh truths. Propelled by Tom and Steve’s easy-to-root-for bond, perfectly captured by the outstanding rapport between Stewart-Jarrett and Sry, Mope will first have you laughing at the absurdity of their struggles before chilling you as an uncanny portrayal of untreated mental illness.
This Sundance world premiere is highly rewarding for those who stick with it and can see beyond the triggering subject matter. Right below the often graphic surface lies a story that keeps the humanity of its characters front and center. Unflinching, harrowing and heartbreaking – often at the same time -, Mope is one of the essential films of 2019 and sure to attain cult status in years to come.
Viewer discretion is advised: Mope is intended for mature audiences and contains subject matter that may shock and offend, including but not limited to nudity and sexually explicit scenes.
[Text: Tom Kiesecoms]