Written by: Robin C. Farrell | March 25th, 2021
Shoplifters of the World (Stephen Kijak, 2021) 3 out of 4 stars.
The film and television landscape is currently replete with 1980s material, but Shoplifters of the World offers an intentional, unique approach by focusing not on the decade itself or its aesthetic, but on the shocking breakup of British band The Smiths. Turns out, though, being a Smiths fan is not a prerequisite to enjoy this film. Their music permeates the soundtrack, obviously, and the documentary background of director Stephen Kijak (Sid & Judy) is on display here with excerpts of performances and interviews spliced into the narrative. Yet, these segments don’t feel out of place, educating those unfamiliar with the Smiths’ history, style and legacy while simultaneously indicating the characters’ thoughts and feelings in context, leaving them to later flock to the nearest radios and dance, unencumbered, full of breezy energy.
The film’s initial – and cursory – framing device feels unnecessary, setting up the premise of lone teenager Dean (Ellar Coltrane, Drowned) breaking into a heavy-metal radio station. He holds DJ Full Metal Mickey (Joe Manganiello, Archenemy) at gunpoint, forcing him to play nothing but The Smiths while his friends gallivant around town, mourning the band’s breakup and partying before one of them departs for the military. We catch up to the “gunpoint” moment fairly quickly, and while it heightens the threat at first, the majority of the film isn’t interested in that kind of tension. The focus is on the relationships that develop between Micky, Dean and the quartet.
A coming of age story at heart, Shoplifters of the World otherwise threads the needle well between shifting relationship dynamics, a foundational fracture, and surrender to innermost truths. Most of the time the actors carry off sometimes overly-lyrical dialogue – with a few cringe-worthy exceptions – but Manganiello is a delight throughout. Mickey offers just the right splash of older-and-possibly-wider perspective; a steadying counterweight to the highly emotional escapades of the teenagers. What’s more, it works best that Mickey is an actual person, rather than just a stereotype. The surface-level party-venue characters deserve similar depth, given some recurring meditations on sexuality from the core protagonists. Devoting screen time to them instead of to the framing device, for example, would have been much more effective.
Still, a loss-of-innocence premise can go so easily become twee or dive full-tilt into sex, drugs, and violence. Those latter elements are all present, but never excessive. On the whole, Shoplifters of the World is accessible, regardless of one’s interest in The Smiths. Especially in the turbulent world in which we find ourselves today, this film offers an inviting, bittersweet watch that will leave you reaching for The Smiths or whatever your musical preference might be.