Shoplifters of the World

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Shoplifters of the World
dir-scr Stephen Kijak
prd Laura Rister, Nick Manganiello, Joe Manganiello, Christopher Figg, Phil Hoelting
with Helena Howard, Ellar Coltrane, Elena Kampouris, Nick Krause, James Bloor, Joe Manganiello, Thomas Lennon, Tonatiuh, Cameron Moulene, Olivia Luccardi, Celia Au, Abby Awe
release US 26.Mar.21
21/US 1h31

howard kampouris manganiello

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"Based on true intentions", this comedy-drama spends a day with alternative music fans who feel like their whole world is ending. Writer-director Stephen Kijak has fun filling the screen with witty 1980s musical references and cultural iconography, which makes the film feel like a vintage teen comedy that blends John Hughes' astuteness with Richard Linklater's kinetic flow. And it's infused with the power of music to move us.
In 1987 Denver, Cleo (Howard) is horrified when she hears a report that her favourite band The Smiths have split up. This slightly alters her plan with best pal Billy (Krause) for a happy day out along with the stylish Patrick (Bloor) and his frustrated girlfriend Sheila (Kampouris), a last hurrah before Billy enlists tomorrow and Patrick moves to London for university. Meanwhile, to cheer Cleo up, her record-shop clerk friend Dean (Coltrane) takes a local rock-n-roll DJ (Manganiello) hostage at gunpoint, demanding that he commemorate the day by playing only songs by The Smiths.
The title refers how the lovestruck Dean lets Cleo steal cassettes, to the consternation of his boss (Lennon). The soundtrack is a wall-to-wall barrage of glorious Smiths tracks, which are also quoted in the dialog and in on-screen chapter titles. As afternoon rolls into evening, the script knowingly explores bigger issues relating to growing up, gender identity, relationships and bigotry. From a house party to the radio studio and a nightclub, the film also nicely captures that teen sense that the future is moving increasingly out of reach.

Performances have a loose charm that matches the film's freeform, music-soaked approach. The scene-stealers are Coltrane and Manganiello, whose sharply well-played standoff bristles with snappy humour as it unexpectedly goes somewhere interesting. Meanwhile, Howard, Kampouris, Krause and Bloor have their parallel odyssey, which is largely a mix of silly and sweet moments but finds some underlying meaning along the way. All of this is a bit corny, but the actors skilfully keep it grounded.

The Smith's message was that it's valuable to step out of yourself and be a little insane from time to time. So this film is a rant against amorphous pop, particularly the big-hair, metal and diva acts that merely repeat meaningless hit formulae. As Morrissey sings, "Hang the blessed DJ / Because the music that they constantly play / It says nothing to me about my life." And the film reminds us how difficult it is to try to be like everyone else. So just be yourself.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 14.Mar.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall