Review: ‘Shoplifters of the World’ is a sweet look at Smiths fandom that goes nowhere fast
Despite the (vulgar) picture the film's trailer paints, Shoplifters of the World is only kinda about a kid who, in 1987, upon learning that The Smiths had broken up, forces the DJ at the local hard rock radio station, at gunpoint, into an impromptu Smiths marathon. The incident, which may or may not have actually happened in Denver (the film says "based on true intentions"), serves as the backdrop for this "night in the life" snapshot of a group of friends and Smiths fans that is in the tradition of Dazed & Confused, American Graffiti, 200 Cigarettes, or Empire Records. It's not as good as any of those movies, but Shoplifters of the World is also not as bad as you might expect. It's actually rather sweet at times, with uniformly good performances by the main cast, and writer/directed Stephen Kijak hits some right notes when he's not hitting us over the head with Moz lyrical references.
Helena Howard plays Cleo, the most Smiths-obsessed of her group who is hit hard when she learns that her favorite band in the world has broken up. She heads to the local indie record store to commiserate with clerk, Dean (Ellar Coltrane), who has a thing for her and lets her steal tapes. (That she's a shoplifter is one of many, many Smiths wink-winkers in this film; here's another, her best friend is named Sheila.) When he tells her that he has an idea to make the world listen to the Smiths, Cleo says "impress me." With that, Dean heads to the local hard rock radio station armed with all the Smiths records he can carry, as well as the store's revolver to make a Grand Romantic Gesture. The DJ, Full Metal Mickey* (played with a lot of charm by Joe Manganiello) agrees under protest to The Smiths marathon and turns a sympathetic ear toward Dean and his romantic woes. Will this night open the DJ's eyes to the genius of Morrissey and Marr?
The radio station plotline, which never quite makes sense on a few different levels, is thankfully the backdrop to the film's better, more meandering story: Cleo, Sheila (Elena Kampouris) and her sort-of boyfriend (James Bloor) give one last wild night out to their friend Billy (Nick Krause), before he has to leave the next day for Basic Training. The night takes them from dives, to house parties, to the local gay bar. with lots of time of deep thoughts, awkward situations, drunken camaraderie, deep secrets revealed and more talk about The Smiths.
One thing's for sure, for a movie that is about Smiths fandom, they do not skimp on The Smiths. The soundtrack features 20 classics songs, and if the characters aren't actually talking about the band, the script is working in references everywhere. If a line of dialogue can make use of a Morrissey lyric, it goes for it. (If you think I've dropped a lot of references in this review it's nothing compared to this movie.) Kijak even inserts actual footage of the band performing and Morrissey interviews as transitional elements.
Shoplifters of the World also knowingly alludes to the unfortunate direction Morrissey has taken in the last decade, having Manganiello monologue about how artists will eventually disappoint and betray their fans. He's the kind of wise-beyond-his-mullet mystic who always has the perfect thing to say every time he opens the mic, including making many sly Smiths references which seem even beyond him, as a person who had never heard the band before that night. The script is too clever by half at times in that way, and entirely underbaked at others, especially when it comes to giving believable motivations for mild mannered Dean to walk into the radio station with a gun.
Kijak has created an appealing group of characters and the film is at its best when he just lets them hang out and gab. For example, a nice scene where Cleo and Billy talk about John Hughes films, and how lame it was that Molly Ringwald chose lame Blaine over Duckie in Pretty In PInk, while admitting that the soundtrack is killer. The plot just tends to bog things down but with a need to wrap things up, eventually the two main storylines merge -- kinda -- for a finale that fizzles out much like the band did themselves. While Cleo might hate Molly Ringwald, you can tell the filmmakers are John Hughes fans -- the film's ending nods to both Sixteen Candles and Some Kind of Wonderful.
Shoplifters of the World is clearly aimed directly at folks who bought the Pretty In Pink soundtrack because it had "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" on it, but probably not at the kind of Smiths obsessives who might be pulled out of the story by sloppy anachronisms and other little detail mistakes the film lets slide. While celebrating the power of music and fandom, it's unlikely to make any new Smiths fans itself.
You can purchase and rent Shoplifters of the World through Amazon, iTunes and other VOD services. Watch the trailer below.