Going into a film like Mope, which had an extremely vague description on the Sundance Film Festival program, it’s important to note one major detail: true story. The film, which stars Nathan Stewart-Jarett as Steve Hill (whose porn name is Steve Driver), tells the story of a low level porn star on his quest for fame. For Steve, life is all about breaking out as an industry star and shaking off his status as a mope. For the record, a mope is a person in the adult film industry that’s stuck at the lowest level. These people are known to do anything just to be part of an adult film and are usually stuck doing the work no one else wants to do. Because of this, the film reflects the dark underbelly of an industry that has a bad enough reputation to begin with.
What’s It About?
When Tom Dong (Kelly Sry) and Steve Driver meet at a bukkake filming in Los Angeles, they instantly bond over their love for the adult film industry. Dong follows Driver to his car where the two gush over an old copy of a film that was sitting on the passenger seat. The whole scene is reminiscent of the way two young boys would obsess over an old comic book collection, and from then on out the two are a pair. When Dong picks up a live-in IT job at a seedy, low level production company in Van Nuys run by a repulsive man named Eric, he insists that Driver gets to come too.
The two spend their days filming ballbusting and cuckold videos in the warehouse production studio in between doing disgusting chores and IT work. It’s all pretty hard to watch, and you can’t help but feel a sense of apprehension for where this story may be going. Still, Driver is more optimistic than ever that he and Dong are going to make it big (pun intended) in the porn industry. One day while scrubbing the floors, Driver overhears Eric talk about the invite he got in the mail for the AVN awards. Knowing that this could be a big opportunity, he steals the invitation and takes Dong with him to Las Vegas to do some networking.
There, they meet a top dog producer named Rocket (David Arquette) and manage to convince him to give them a chance. Rocket agrees to let them shoot one film with him, but when Driver loses it in a fit of rage over Rocket’s direction, they blow their shot and end up back in the arms of Eric. Despite the major setbacks, Driver is more convinced than ever that he’s going to shake his status as a mope and come out on top. This is where the film has you on the edge of year seat from here on out. As a member of the audience, you seem entranced by Driver’s endless determination to make it but still have some sense of uneasiness that things aren’t what they seem. In the end, it’s all rather macabre.
Mope‘s Important Message
Aside from telling the real-life tale of Steve Hill (I recommend not googling the name until you’ve seen the movie), Mope gives a startling depiction at an often forgotten industry. The film tackles issues like racism in the industry and lack of mental health oversight without being too in-your-face about it. During the brief q&a at the end of the screening, director Lucas Heyne mentioned that the issues of the film could happen in any industry. The real question, though, is whether or not the issues in the film could have become as drastic in any other industry where regulations are put into place to protect the workers’ health and wellness.
Mope has some serious potential as a cult-hit. More importantly, it provides a commentary on an industry that’s been pushed into the limelight in recent years in an effort to legitimize sex work. In this regard, it shows the side of the industry that we often hear about but don’t want to visualize the reality of. This is what makes it important as a film about sex work in an age when we, as a society, so desperately want to see it given the same rights and protections as any other entertainment job. Mope doesn’t currently have any distribution deal.