Shoplifters of the World, set in 1987 Denver, Colorado, captures the specificity and time period setting through a passionate eye. Featuring 20 songs by iconic British band The Smiths, the film celebrates the community and power of music. If you’re not a big fan of The Smiths, have no fear: Shoplifters of the World speaks to the outsider in all of us.
The unthinkable has happened: The Smiths have broken up. No one is more affected by this development than Cleo (Helena Howard), and her three friends Sheila (Elena Kampouris), Patrick (James Bloor), and Billy (Nick Krause). Cleo, who constantly shoplifts from a local record store, forms a bond with employee Dean (Ellar Coltrane). Dean is equally upset at the band’s demise, so he makes the grandest of gestures: he hijacks a local radio station at gunpoint and forces the DJ, Full Metal Mickey (Joe Manganiello), to play nothing but Smiths music all night long. The music serves as the soundtrack for a night of self-discovery and exploration for Cleo and her friends.
Every scene is supercharged with the music of The Smiths. If you’re even a casual listener of the band, it’s nearly impossible to resist. Concert footage, music videos, and spoken dialogue is interspersed throughout, serving to highlight the indelible mark The Smiths have left on the musical landscape. I loved the way writer/director Stephen Kijak embraces a clear passion for the genre, making constant meta commentary and references to other bands and even pop culture. Full Metal Mickey, obsessed with bands like KISS and Twisted Sister, warms to the soothing tunes as the night grows darker. Cleo hates Molly Ringwald, mainly because she sees none of herself in Pretty in Pink. Sheila stares at a poster of Morrissey during an uncomfortable sex scene for comfort. The specifics of the setting, down to snappy dialogue filled with Smiths quotes, is like a comfy blanket of familiarity.
I wasn’t even alive in 1987, yet I found so much to relate to with the outsider counter-culture mindset in which these kids get wrapped up. Moreover, each character has a concise, believable arc that provides another layer to the film, other than just being a ‘greatest hits’ celebration. It’s very plausible that Billy and Patrick, both struggling with their sexualities, would be swept up in the music of The Smiths. Cleo is taking the band’s breakup hardest of all, and she just wants a night of fun to help her grieve. Sheila is trying to find direction as Patrick, her boyfriend since middle school, prepares to depart for London. Even radio station-hijacker Dean gets a meaty role, delving into a vital subset of fandom with his personal story about the band saving him after a suicide attempt.
This isn’t merely a pretty surface-level examination riding a nostalgia wave. The costumes and period aesthetic is adhered to with strict detail that goes beyond spandex and leg warmers. Shoplifters of the World sends out a timely message about the importance of music—how its lyrics can help us make sense of the unthinkable and even save our lives when we most need it. Any fan of The Smiths has found their holy grail: a movie that understand and implores the viewer to never stop listening. Shoplifters of the World comes to theaters, digital, and on demand March 26th, from RLJE Films.