There’s a lot going on in Stephen Kijak’s “Shoplifters of the World” (RLJE). That’s not surprising since the director attempts to pay homage to the screenplays of John Hughes (“Pretty In Pink” and others), and films such as David Moreton’s “Edge of Seventeen” and Michael Lehmann’s “Airheads.”
As if that’s not enough, you should also be prepared to do some reading. Title cards that announce each section, including the prelude, as well as the segments divided into “sides” and song titles, as well as the “Based on true intentions” statement.
Music is central to Kijak’s work with documentaries about Scott Walker, Jaco Pastorius, Backstreet Boys and Judy Garland to his credit. In case you didn’t get it from the title, Kijak’s second dramatic feature centers on The Smiths.
Set in 1987 Denver, at the time of the breakup of the band, “Shoplifters of the World” examines the impact of such an event on a group of friends. There’s Safeway cashier and community college student Cleo (Helena Howard), the possibly sexually fluid Billy (Nick Krause) who is enjoying his last night on the town before reporting for military duty, Madonna wannabe Sheila (Elena Kampouris) and her sexually confused boyfriend Patrick (James Bloor), and record store clerk turned hostage-taker Dean (Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood” fame).
Cleo, who drives a VW Beetle with Smiths bumper stickers and a “Meat Is Murder” license plate, is taking the breakup the hardest. However, Dean runs a close second, especially when he shows up at a heavy metal radio station and pulls a gun on DJ Full Metal Mickey (Joe Manganiello, who also co-produced), demanding that he play the Smiths LPs and singles he brought with him.
In search of a party or bar where they can give Billy a proper sendoff, Cleo, Sheila, and Patrick hit the road. Along the way, they make a stop at dive bar The Ritz where they first learn about Dean’s situation via the radio. Next stop is a party at Sandi’s (Olivia Luccardi) where Sheila hooks up with Sandi’s hot jock brother David (Cameron Moulène), who disappoints her on many levels.
Across town, Dean is having an impact on the Kiss-obsessed Full Metal Mickey via the music of The Smiths. Meanwhile, it’s becoming clear that Patrick is in love with Billy, but when Billy kisses him, Patrick pushes him away. Patrick’s interaction with “Bi” Brian (Tonatiuh) only seems to confuse him more. A final stop at gay bar The Exit, where Patrick comes into himself on the dancefloor, feels like a solid resolution.
Kijak makes interesting use of Smiths' performance and interview footage which he interweaves throughout the film. The wishful thinking message that “a song can still save your life” is a little twee, especially in light of Morrissey’s recent downfall related to his propensity for canceling concerts, as well as his expression of conservative and racist views, tarnishing his image. Regardless, “Shoplifters of the World” takes us back to a more innocent time (although no less dangerous — mentions of AIDS and ACT UP in addition to a confrontation with homophobic rednecks in a pickup truck) time before everything changed.
Screen Savor is a weekly column from SFGN’s film critic Gregg Shapiro. Shapiro is an entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in regional LGBT and mainstream media outlets. Shapiro is the author of seven books including the 2019 chapbooks, Sunshine State and More Poems About Buildings and Food. Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.