Schemers (2019)

Musicians having a hand in their own biopics often lead interested audiences to the assumption that what transpires on screen is authentic and crafted with the best of intentions. We saw it to grand effect with Elton John’s input on Rocketman and to a lesser extent with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and whenever Madonna’s self-penned and directed bio drops we’ll see which side of the spectrum she lands, but what of the figures behind such musical acts? Dave McLean, who found fame as a music promoter and eventual manager of English alt-rock band Placebo, is at the helm of his own story here, directing Schemers, an ambitious, Trainspotting-inspired drama that tracks his shrewd hustle throughout the music scene in 1980’s Dundee.

With almost-indecipherable narration – the Scottish accents are thick, to say the least – Schemers gets off to a rather kinetic start as it follows carefree thug Davie (Conor Berry), a natural-born swindler whose dalliance with a local lass lands him in hospital when her boyfriend (rightfully) influences an injury on the football field. With his sporting dreams dashed, but not his silver tongue, Davie does his best to impress the young Shona (Tara Lee) by organising a music gig. Aided by his cut-from-the-same-cloth mates, John (Grant Robert Keelan) and Scot (Sean Connor), Davie epitomises the phrase “fake it until you make it” by securing substantial acts using nothing but his wiles; through sheer bullshit artistry he’s able to book acts like Simple Minds for supposed local gigs.

Naturally, due to the publicity surrounding the musical acts he’s able to secure through an agency that doesn’t really exist, the authorities catch wind, and though the film celebrates the pluck of Davie, McLean’s script has the smarts to not entirely romanticise his own doings; that being said, the eventual booking of Iron Maiden proves something of a developmental step in McLean’s story, setting him on a path of enviable success. Though, as much as Schemers is a joyous-ish celebration of McLean’s own achievements, the universal narrative at its core won’t entirely reach a broader scope due to the fact that the New wave music on hand and the era in which its encompassed is likely to only be embraced by specific fans. The rather jarring editing, constant narration, and use of freeze-frame are similar additives that could very easily be rejected by audiences who aren’t prepared to overlook such kinetic ingredients.

Whether it’s egotistical or not to spearhead your own biopic of sorts, McLean’s evident enthusiasm at least means Schemers is never a boring production, it’s just not necessarily one that will land with all. Berry is a fine young performer – somehow endearing in his mischievousness – whose presence constantly elevates McLean’s largely borrowed aesthetic, and if the genre of music celebrated here doesn’t entice, then his performance could sway you to at least persevere.

Schemers will be available for digital rent or purchase through iTunes, Google Play, and Sony PlayStation from May 12th in Australia.

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