Review by Sean Boelman
There are a lot of coming-of-age films that prominently feature music as a significant force, as it is easy to find oneself through the power of great lyrics. A love letter to the great rock band The Smiths, Stephen Kijak’s film Shoplifters of the World is a bit of a slog to get through, an overwhelmingly mediocre film that fails to do anything interesting with its characters.
The film follows a group of teenagers whose lives are about to fundamentally change as they get together and party on the night that The Smiths break up. We have seen plenty of movies that tell a fictional story against the backdrop of true events, but few have been as frustrating as this bland mix of tropes and shallow philosophical ramblings.
That said, there is a subplot in the film that is really interesting, about a young man who kidnaps a radio station DJ and forces him to play the music of The Smiths, but this is really underdeveloped. It has the most stakes of any of the storylines yet is treated like a cutaway from the main tale of these four friends coming of age.
Additionally, it feels like the film is afraid to say anything particularly challenging about the topics it hopes to address. There are portions of the film which apparently want to explore the sexuality of the young characters, but this discussion is shallow at best and regressive at worst. And while the poetry of the music is often mentioned, the film never really does anything with it.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the film, though, is that the dynamic between the four characters isn’t that interesting. Kijak seems to have been more interested in the characters’ individual arcs, but unfortunately, they are so archetypal that they just don’t work. And that element of friendship definitely would have gone a long way in creating an emotional connection to the story.
It’s definitely a shame that the characters aren’t more well-developed, because the actors are all very talented. Helena Howard (Madeline’s Madeline) plays the lead, and while the character isn’t very deep, she at least brings some personality to the role. Elena Kampouris threatens to steal the show with some of the most memorable scenes in the film. And Joe Manganiello has a fun if overdone supporting turn.
It is on a technical level that the film is most disappointing. Although the soundtrack featuring the music of The Smiths is wonderful, that is one of the few highlights. The production values of the film are otherwise rather cheap (all the money was probably spent on music rights and Manganiello), resulting in some disappointingly bland party scenes.
Shoplifters of the World isn’t a very good film despite the potential in the concept and the cast. It’s ultimately just another coming-of-age movie, and we have seen enough of those that this generic one isn’t necessary.
Shoplifters of the World hits theaters and VOD on March 26.