The rare moments when Shoplifters of the World isn’t tripping over its own cutesy fan service reveal a movie that’s listening for the real and mysterious friction that has always transmuted suicidal music into its own kind of salvation.
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The film lacks for the empathy, curiosity, and sense of humor that are the defining characteristics of the Smiths’s music.
The result is imperfect (the acting can be uneven outside of Howard’s innate talent to demand the undivided attention of everyone on-screen and off), but its messaging and execution is a lot more resonant than I expected going in—a less successful sibling to Blinded By the Light.
This sweetly nostalgic look at lost boys and lonely girls feels like it comes straight from the heart.
Shoplifters Of The World seems intended as a love letter to The Smiths, but in trying to convey the British band’s importance, it comes across more like fan fiction—too reference-heavy for a general audience, too shallow for those already in the know.
Shoplifters of the World, in fact, belongs to Cleo, not just because Howard is such a dizzyingly charismatic actress but because her story, which unfolds parallel to Dean’s, is a heartfelt coming-of-age drama that perfectly embodies the youthful angst, ennui and romantic longing expressed so well in the music of the Smiths.
As a valentine to influential 80s alt-rockers The Smiths, Shoplifters of the World is unbeatable, propelled by original Smiths music along with archival footage of band interviews and performances, vintage posters, magazine covers, album sleeves and just about every other bit of era-specific ephemera you can name.
The lack of a strong narrative and characters, paired with pacing issues, turn the film from an intriguing premise to a boring, hollow, and overall tedious watch.
It’s unfortunate that the finished tribute doesn’t quite come together, and the tension between needing a compelling narrative and paying respects to bands whose music changes our lives never gets resolved.