‘Shoplifters of the World’ Is a Cinematic Misdemeanor

by Jonah Desneux on March 22, 2021

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down]

In Theaters, On Demand and Digital on March 26, 2021.

It’s been over 40 years since the start of the decade of neon fashion and Ronald Reagan, but 80s nostalgia still runs rampant in pop entertainment. The pop culture boom of the 80s shaped modern mainstream entertainment and star identity. Stephen Kijak’s newest feature Shoplifters of the World thrusts audiences back into the time of big hair but instead focuses on the white suburban counter-culture that arose in the midst pop culture explosion. Centering around a group of high school seniors at the end of the decade and a pivotal chapter in their young lives, Kijak explores what it means to be different and young in an ever-changing world on the cusp of an innovative future.

While Kijak’s message is clear and his decade setting is immersive, the film lacks the substance to create memorability. The film contains a lot of heart, but it is not enough to make up for the lackluster performances from the young casts, and a script that sinks from the 80s cliches desperately it imitates.

On the last day before Billy (Nick Krause) leaves for boot camp, his close- friends Cleo (Helena Howard), Shelia (Elena Kampouris), and Patrick (James Bloor) band together for one last night of fun in their small town before they take the big step into independent adulthood. Set alongside an announcement that UK 80s rock band The Smiths are deciding to break up, Kijak scores the film entirely with The Smiths music as his young protagonists cling onto the band’s alternative style as part of their own identity. The simple premise leads to fond moments of youthful reflections, though more often than not chases its own tale by repeating the same sappy lines in a narrative arc that has been done hundreds of times before.

Attempting to spice up the film with a more dramatic subplot, the film’s diegetic soundtrack is based on a secondary story of the kid from Boyhood (Ellar Coltrane) holding late-night rock DJ Full Metal Mickey (Joe Manganiello) at gunpoint in the studio, demanding him to play Smiths albums throughout the night in honor of the band’s significance to many unheard voices. What could have been the film’s saving grace and most enjoyable moments is instead watered down with painfully melodramatic monologues about getting older and finding meaning in art. The dialogue during these scenes is so generic that it feels like the value brand alternative to a John Carney screenplay.

As the events of Shoplifters of the World unfold through a linear “one crazy night” narrative, the film takes shape as a character study of each of the young adults on the edge of change. Not fitting in with high school norms, each teen questions how they’ll be able to fit into the “real world” and the purpose they have in it. With the heavy focus on the vulnerable psyche of the group of four, a majority of the film’s weight is put on the back of its young performers. Unfortunately, they do not give strong enough performances to carry it. Lacking severe group chemistry and an amateur style that does not flow well with the film’s artificial nostalgia grab, the actors’ flounder in finding their footing and bring their character’s internal struggles to life. The script bluntly paints their dilemmas through bland monologues and over-the-top arguments, as the performances can’t keep up and always feel off.

Cleo, framed as the leader of the group, is a character whose motives are solely based in how she maneuvers against the mainstream during the uncertainty of her life. Howard is a phenomenal casting choice for this role after her breakout in Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline, however, she struggles to obtain the same unstable magnitude as she is bogged down by a cookie-cutter representation of an edgy teen. Howard’s strength from her raw ability to put herself out there in unsettling ways and the film drops the ball in harnessing all the tools that put Howard on the map by making her cheap copycat of the 80s basket-case archetype. 

Shoplifters of the World attempts to capture the essence of 80s edge without utilizing enough techniques of alternative filmmaking. There are sentimental moments that work but overall the film misses its mark. The material is bound to speak to some, but it is disappointing to watch a film waste its runtime not practicing what it preaches. 


Jonah Desneux

Jonah Desneux is a recent graduate from the University of Missouri with a BA in Film Studies. It’s baffling that someone who just spent four years writing film paper after film paper would immediately want to write some more, but hey, he must love it! Along with writing about film Jonah enjoys writing and performing sketch comedy in Columbia and Kansas City.

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