Before David McLean became the manager of Placebo, he was a student music promoter who just happened to make a string of gig bookings to impress the ladies in his hometown of Dundee, Scotland.
These gigs included the likes of Simple Minds, The Skids, XTC and Ultravox. After success at home, McLean went on to work with mega-bands such as The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and Green Day. A rags to riches tale like this would make great movie fodder, so McLean decided to add filmmaker to his CV and wrote and directed his career story. Schemers is the final product.
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Schemers makes no bones that this will be a knockaround coming of age tale. Its lead, Conor Berry has more than a small glint of charm in his eye. While the film itself kicks off with a swiftly paced montage of 80’s Scotland and an opening scene laid with narration which riffs on Danny Boyle’s iconic Trainspotting, McLean’s self-made passion project is far more assured than expected and not nearly as smug as one could have feared. Keeping things simple, Schemers‘ most challenging thing is fully getting to grips with some of the deeper Scottish accents. Insert tired joke about Americans and subtitles here.
However, Schemers, for all its small-town charm and coming of age larks, is a rather typical musical biopic. It is a film which is inoffensive enough to while away time but does nothing extraordinary. The early montage references Thatcher, but her influence on Dundee feels limited in McClean’s story. There is always a feeling that there is more to the story that this tame telling cannot mention. And while first-time director McClean does not need to be the next Lynn Ramsay, there are not enough idiosyncrasies on screen for the film to truly stand out.
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Nevertheless, there are music biopics, that do not hold the attention span as well as Schemers. Warmly lensed by Alan C. McLaughlin, littered with genuinely grin-worthy moments, and held together by its engaging young cast, Schemers does have flashes of sparkle.
It is difficult not to wipe a tear of nostalgia at McClean’s tale of 80s’ gig economy. The digital age of endless churn, personal branding and content production does not feel as enjoyable as the local gig promotion seen here. However, one of the films sweetest moments, involving a best friend and his all-knowing wife asks the question: what could happen if McLean decides to shift the focus away from himself for a second feature? One can only wait and see.
Schemers is out on DVD and Digital Download on 25th January.