Shoplifters of the World
by Matt Weiner
Never meet your heroes. That goes double for present-day Morrissey, frontman for the Smiths. But Shoplifters of the World looks back at a more innocent era in 1987, the day the band broke up, and conjures up a time when the Manchester rock band was the Beatles for disaffected teens who traded in mop tops for asymmetrical haircuts.
And Denver, Colorado—if you believe the urban legend that inspired the film—was ground zero for overenthusiastic Smiths fans. Director Stephen Kijak reimagines the night that distraught fan Dean (Ellar Coltrane, Boyhood) held a radio station hostage, forcing the DJ to play nonstop Smiths songs.
While Dean remains holed up at the radio station with the DJ, Full Metal Mickey (Joe Manganiello, perfection as a heavy metal himbo), Dean’s friends grieve and celebrate one last big night together before figuring out their lives post-high school.
That includes college, the Army, and for Cleo (Helena Howard), a general sort of Linklater malaise that seems to befall suburban teens on the eve of life’s next big adventure.
The film sets Cleo and the gang’s exploits to Smiths songs, along with contemporary interviews with band members that serve as a reminder of how much the Smiths meant for music, especially pop and indie rock, in an age of big hair and even bigger power chords.
Even though the film is a love letter to the Smiths, it’s as much about the insular obsession of finding meaning through art. Even diehard metalhead Mickey comes to appreciate the way all these young fans have experienced an era-defining shock in their young lives.
Still, it’s hard to shake the sense that the entire night’s events come down to a group of surly teens gatecrashing a bunch of parties to force everyone to listen to their music instead of having a good time… and yet everyone is still exceedingly polite to all the assholes in eyeliner.
This is also a painfully recognizable part of both obsessive fandoms and a good coming of age story. The mix of low stakes self-discovery and winsome leads helps keep their night out more charming than cringeworthy. Shoplifters is content to go big on soundtrack and mood, and it’s a choice that works.
There isn’t a ton of depth to the ensemble friends—the film is often too busy setting up just the right music cue. But when you have the music rights to take those cues from the likes of Morrissey and Johnny Marr, a little bit of charm goes a long way.