Patrick Preziosi on David McLean’s ‘Schemers’ (2019)
As David “Davie” McLean tells it in his self-directed biopic Schemers, his success as a promoter and rock manager was at the behest of a perpetual avalanche of happy accidents. A star footballer in the making, Davie’s plans pitch sideways when the vengeful boyfriend of a girl he’d had a one night stand with invades practice and promptly breaks his victim’s leg. Lest he face the same fate of many men in the quaint, though unremarkable, town of Dundee, Scotland, Davie (as portrayed by floppy-haired, doe-eyed first-timer Conor Berry) remains on the lookout for any sort of opportunity that’d otherwise pluck him from looming factory work. His path is laid out for him—by none other than himself—when in an ill-advised attempt to court the student-nurse who cared for him in the hospital, Shona (Tara Lee), Davie promises invitation to a university disco. She takes the bait, but there’s a caveat: no such event exists.
Enlisting his close friend Scot (Sean Connor) and local DJ John (Grant Robert Keelan), Davie brings together a slapdash party replete with turntables and even a police car’s siren light as a strobe. While sparsely attended—most likely a fault of production and budget restrictions—the event still gives the three boys a much-needed dose of purpose, and soon they’re off planning their next move, which sees them move into concert booking, and here is where the film unlocks its ostensible conceit.
Schemer’s trajectory is glaringly rote, its narrative assembled with the expected pitfalls and pocket-sized victories that befall similar coming-of-age material. Anticipation is inextricable from the inevitable third-act conflict which’ll undoubtedly evince a recalibration of motivations and priorities on part of our protagonists (this is delivered in the form of the cardboard mafioso Fergie, played by Alastair Thomas Mills).
The film, unfortunately, encourages such nitpicking for how otherwise breathlessly the surface charms are achieved, a real marvel of quickfire editing and a camera that constantly reorients itself even in the most banal of conversations, not unlike some of Olivier Assayas’ more youth-centric offerings. In wedding omnipresent voiceover to frequent freeze-frames and other jarring interjections, McLean at least reminds us of some of the fun that can be had with a rewatch of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996).
Enjoyment—or maybe tolerance—of Schemers is dependent entirely on one’s appetite for vanity, of which the entire project is dripping. McLean is rightfully proud of the attention he called to himself and his hometown, especially amidst such dead-end prospects, but the dumb-luck that saves him from every potentially debilitating situation grows suffocating. There’s no interrogation of Davie’s knuckleheaded ideals of promotion, nothing to suggest that being in precarious cahoots with a local gangster could be a bad idea; he’s just another stepping stone. Davie’s all about the money and the fame, and as soon as he breaks into even more renown with an Iron Maiden concert that should have all but gone well, he ditches Dundee and becomes the manager for British band Placebo, all of which is conveniently detailed in a closing title card.
Still, Fergie isn’t as poorly written as Shona, whose inclusion as a mouthpiece—she tells Davie when he’s done something impressive; she tells Davie when he’s bitten off more than he can chew—plays as particularly insulting. Everyone in Davie’s orbit is just another cog in his success-gaining machine, even family and lovers. McLean’s treatment of his own biography is so bald-faced in its smugness that one can handily pinpoint every moment which could be used against him, even if delivered within the same context. There’s no detectable independent spirit, nor any delusions of grandeur, as dually embodied by Michael Winterbottom’s exponentially more interesting 24 Hour Party People (2002), which also chronicled a grassroots music scene adjacent to Davie’s own run of concerts. McLean was a kid who experienced nothing but good luck after a brief spate of missteps, and he’ll be the first to tell you that.
Schemers is screening in UK cinemas 25th September.