Heaven Knows 'Shoplifters of the World' Is Miserable Directed by Stephen Kijak

Starring Helena Howard, Joe Mangienello, Ellar Coltrane, Elena Kampouris, Nick Krause, James Bloor, Thomas Lennon
Heaven Knows 'Shoplifters of the World' Is Miserable Directed by Stephen Kijak
Denver in 1987: before all the craft beer and light rail and $8 coffees showed up, it was probably a stodgy mountain town. And that's what our ensemble cast of brooding teenagers is up against. They're young misfits coming of age in Reagan's America, and to make matters worse, their favourite band, the Smiths, just broke up. So begins the anticlimactic saga of Shoplifters of the World, and little is accomplished after what seems like the longest 90 minutes ever. 

Writer-director Stephen Kijak has experience documenting musical acts, but the Smiths are a tall order. Sacred ground to many. And this story follows some Smiths-obsessed teens who are out on the town for a night while one of their goth brethren goes rogue on the FM airwaves. You mean like that movie, Pirate Radio? No, more like that other movie, Airheads. The local DJ is taken hostage at gunpoint and forced to play the Smiths all night while the rest of Denver mourns their disbanding. It's not as interesting as it sounds.

While this group of youths are portrayed as slackers, they somehow have a knack for procuring firearms, booze, drugs, tobacco, and gaining admittance to ubiquitously-named bars like the Exit and the Ritz. So hats off to Gen X for that! Shoplifters aims to capture the freewheeling teen fun of Dazed and Confused and pair it with the 1980s nostalgia of Stranger Things and The Breakfast Club, yet we're left unsatisfied, as the characters and story just don't have much to offer.

The cast — led by magnetic newcomer Helena Howard — are decent performers, but the cupboards are bare in terms of the script. Famous YouTube Dungeon Master Joe Mangienello, is fairly likeable as the butt-rock disc jockey, Full Metal Mickey. And it's always nice to see Reno 911's Thomas Lennon, who makes a cameo as the smarmy record store owner Uncle Dick. Other upsides? The cinematography is competent, I enjoyed the liberal usage of the term "poseur," and, needless to say, the music is excellent. One unique thing about this movie is that the filmmakers insert archived interviews and old live footage of the Smiths into the story. It's arbitrary and unorthodox, but it's probably the most interesting thing you'll see here. 

Ya know how SLC Punk! kinda sucked but somehow achieved cult status? That's the best this film can hope for. You'll either groan or cheer at all the shameless references to their lyrics. Heaven knows that fans of the Smiths are a special breed, so maybe they'll embrace this story as part of the band's already questionable mythology. 

Shoplifters of the World is available on VOD. (Pacific Northwest Pictures)