The Plot (And the Accent) Thickens – Schemers

Review by William J. Hammon, Creator of I Actually Paid to See This blog

I don’t consider myself the most resourceful of people, but every once in a while, when push comes to shove, I can buckle down and pull out a small miracle or two, be it in my personal or professional life. When I was in college, and I somehow scraped together enough money to buy Christmas presents despite spending most of the semester wasting my cash on beer and weed, my mother remarked on this occasional skill by telling me, “You always find a way to step in shit and come out smelling like roses.”

That’s the basic theme of Schemers, an autobiographical film written and directed by music promoter David McLean. Set in the early 1980s in Dundee, Scotland (filmed there as well), the movie takes us through McLean’s first foray into planning live shows, as well as the gangland hoops he has to jump through in order to make it happen, and make something of himself.

Played by newcomer Conor Berry, young Davie is reminiscent of your standard Topher Grace character, if he was also a Scottish soccer hooligan. The film begins with Davie narrating a scenario that basically frames his entire existence. What starts as a somewhat charming take on a man sowing his wild oats turns quickly into a madcap chase through the city that ends with his leg being broken, with enough flashbacks and side tangents to make Guy Ritchie proud.

As is often the case with Davie, he thinks with the wrong head, and that gets him into way more trouble than a college-aged kid should. As he recovers, he becomes enamored with his student nurse, Shona (Tara Lee from EastEnders), and scores a date with her by lying about putting on a disco dance at her school’s student union. Having been called on his bluff, he quickly assembles a makeshift dance with the help of his drug-dealing friend Scot (Sean Conner of Anna and the Apocalypse) and a small-time DJ named John (Grant Robert Keelan). When Shona promises another date if he can bring in live bands like Simple Minds, the lads are off and running as hustlers.

It is at times thrilling to see Davie work his magic, and part of that is down to the fact that McLean himself gets to control the narrative. It’s good that he allows for some nuance with the character, pointing out his many foibles, but there is a distinctive “look how awesome I am” angle to the proceedings.

Now, that’s all forgivable if the writing is crisp and the acting is on point, and it certainly is here. Berry, Conner, and Keelan make for a tremendous trio of nitwits who talk fast, pull strings, and luck out way more than they should. This becomes especially glaring – and impressive – as the boys get deeper and deeper in debt to the local organized crime outfit. When the three are at their best, it’s reminiscent of something from In Bruges or Seven Psychopaths. And even in the rare moments where their base motivations and actions don’t make the most sense (Davie’s affinity for betting on the ponies, for instance), the whole lot of them are charismatic enough to keep the audience along for the ride.

McLean is also quite adept at tapping into the youth culture of the early 80s. The bands Davie books as his profile (and ego) swell are a pristine mix of Brit Rock and Punk that makes the catalog soundtrack its own delightful supporting player. Sandinistas, The Proclaimers, and Dead Kennedys all have a proper place in a film that culminates with an Iron Maiden performance (after a fun joke at U2’s expense). Licensing music can be its own artform, particularly in independent films that have a much lower budget for such luxuries, but McLean and his team succeed in spades (it helps that he manages Placebo, one of the featured groups).

The one element that might prevent the film from succeeding this side of the pond is the thickness of the Scottish accents. I’ve been to Scotland several times. I even dated a Scottish woman for two years. I confess I still needed subtitles to understand the Dundee dialect. Should you brave the dialogue without them, here’s a brief cheat sheet: “Tae” means “to”; “twa” means “two”; “nae” means “no”; “ken” means “know.” So, for instance, a line like, “Nae, I didnae ken where tae take the twa wee shites,” can now be understood.

Still, that’s a minor gripe, if you can even call it that. The core enjoyment of the film is the hilarious degree to which Davie and his associates dig their respective holes, and the absolutely odds-defying ways they get out of them. Davie himself may be an unreliable narrator, as he’s channeling the actual subject of the film standing behind the camera, but the performances are beyond hysterical at points. The story is still quite compelling, and the soundtrack makes you want to bang your head and see just what you can get away with.

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