Shoplifters of the World: Dancin’, Everything is Free
In case you had worried that the “look how awesome the music of my youth” film was had faded as the boomers aged out of the business, the past ten years have brought about a new generation intent on telling the kids today just how great music was in the 1980s. It’s not that I necessarily disagree with them, but no one likes to be lectured to, and even the best of them – 2016’s Sing Street at least had the good sense to write their own tunes too – just fall back on the same tired “the music will save us all” trope, which is easy to say when you’re looking back thirty years. If they really believed it, they’d find the good music today and the kids that need saving, rather than these tired nostalgia pieces about how cool it was when they were 17.
Anyway, Shoplifters of the World doesn’t have much more to offer us or this genre than some killer tunes and some pretty people dancing to them in bisexual lighting. Writer/director Stephen Kijak (better known for hope-you-like-the-band-already documentaries like We Are X and If I Leave Here Tomorrow) does have a good taste for casting, filling his companies with talented up-and-comers. Helena Howard (Madeline’s Madeline), Elena Kampouris (Before I Fall), Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood), Nick Krause, and James Bloor fill out the main roster of kids, who, over the course of an eventful night on the brink of their adult lives, try to imagine their lives beyond Denver.
These reflections are spurred by the announcement that The Smiths, their favorite band, are breaking up, the kind of tragedy that today, in the age of the solo star, seems very distant and long ago. Not that The Smiths, as the film takes great pains to remind us, were exactly a mainstream act, a status the kids take special pride in as the now-familiar marker of their own outsider status.
Each of the kids has their own personal crisis – Cleo (Howard) dreams of going to Paris, but has no way there; her best friend Billy (Krause) is about to get shipped off to the military; Sheila (Kampouris) dreams of getting laid; her boyfriend Pastrick (Bloor) is taking Morrissey’s celibacy pledge as his own, and is maybe a little too resistant to Sheila’s affections; and Dean (Coltrane) dreams about Cleo, for whom he has unconsciously taken hostage the local metal station and forced it to play Smiths records. This unusual act of violence is teased in the most-unnecessary in media res opening I’ve ever seen, teasing events that will come a mere 15 minutes later in the running time, and while the scenes between Dean and DJ Full Metal Mickey (Joe Manganiello) are effective enough, it is only just enough.
This is the kind of teen film that treats teens like children, reassuring them of the values they already stubbornly insist on anyway – that their favorite music and their friends are the most important things in the world and whatever happens later will take care of itself – and I’m sure there still exists some gang of nostalgia hounds who wish they grew up in the 1980s and will get a kick out of the countercultural scene while having little appreciation for just how outside the mainstream it was. Like all generations before it, the ‘80s has been increasingly enshrined by the reaction against it than by the wider culture of the time, creating the false narrative that it’s easy to stand up against the mores of the time simply by being yourself man, and aside from 20-second scenes with parents on the margins, there’s almost no sense that these kids are all that unusual, if not for the fact that they keep insisting on it. The film has no adult perspective, no real reflection or maturity gained in the decades since, no reason to spotlight this particular time, and nothing to share beyond the music that already existed long, long, long before it was made.