The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - SCHEMERS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - SCHEMERS

schemers review
In 1980s Dundee, a young gig promoter gets in over his head when he tries to stage concerts by borrowing money from a gangster.

Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Dave Mclean

Starring: Conor Berry, Tara Lee, Sean Connor, Grant Robert Keelan, Alistair Thomson Mills

schemers poster

Schemers is the autobiographical feature film debut of Dave Mclean, concert promoter and artist manager whose biggest success was taking on British rock band Placebo. Because "The beginnings of the guy who managed Placebo" doesn't sound like such a strong sale - especially when he doesn't even have a Wikipedia page - Schemers seeks to validate its existence in other ways.

The first is the Dundee-ness of the story. The title card is captioned "Proudly made in Dundee" and, while I can't truly comment on the verisimilitude without having lived and experienced the culture, I can say it at least feels authentic, given the precision of the distinctly Dundonian dialogue and my inability to recognise - now a curiosity to explore - a location that’s seldom featured on the big screen, made further interesting by the period design (it’s set in 1979/80). If you’re from Dundee or just a fan of the city, you should see this movie regardless of this critique, simply for the rare representation.

schemers review

The other element that gives Mclean’s story a ticket into cinema is that his coming-of-age story involves a gangster, an idea more believable on a script than if it was an anecdote he personally related to you. When Davie (played by debutant Conor Berry) has his footballing ambitions killed by a lethal injury, he finds his passion in promoting music. The goal is to stage a massive Iron Maiden concert. It’s an expensive endeavour that puts him and his small-time colleagues in debt to an infamous local gangster named Fergie (Alastair Thomson Mills, whose IMDb profile says he’s primarily known for a film that’s not even out yet) who runs all the venues.

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Unfortunately, as much as it might sound like Almost Famous meets RocknRolla, it’s not a particularly intriguing journey to follow and, ultimately, the arc is utterly conventional. At its best, it pulses in the vein of The Likely Lads, paying tribute to working class youth culture. But mostly it's a wannabe Trainspotting, evident in the hyper-stylised aesthetic entailing the sort of freeze frames, rewinds, montages, and wry narration that characterised Danny Boyle’s classic. Try as he might, Mclean can’t escape from Boyle’s shadow here.

schemers review

But at a brisk 85 minutes, I can’t complain too much. The romantic subplot between Davie and a nurse (Tara Lee, who played Jamie Dornan’s best mate in The Fall), which the morphine-boosted protagonist erroneously dubs as a "Florence Nightingale effect," is sweet and humorous, although she takes a back seat to his ambitions as the film progresses.

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I admired how the film’s poster promotes "a classic indie soundtrack from the '70s and '80s." Selling the music was an advertising tool used quite frequently in those years for films (e.g. the original art of Fast Times at Ridgemont High) but doesn’t seem to be utilised anymore - the untrained viewer wouldn’t know Mamma Mia! was revolved around ABBA’s discography if they were to watch the trailer. The song choices here, including 'Promise You A Miracle' by Simple Minds and 'The Faith Healer' by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, are real throwbacks.

schemers review

So, essentially, what appealed to me about the film - the cultural detail, the music, the presentation - was everything except the filmmaker’s actual memoir. However, while I can’t say I cared for Davie’s story, I can imagine his odyssey will work as a self-insert for a decent percentage of the UK's male population, the type who are probably still clinging onto Britpop and their successors in landfill indie, resonating with the nostalgia that Mclean seeks to capture. For some people it’ll be catharsis, for some it’ll have its charms, for me it’s all just a bit naff.

Schemers is in UK cinemas from September 25th.

2020 movie reviews