A few months ago, Madonna announced that she would direct a biopic of her own life. It came after Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody,which were produced by Elton John and Queen’s Jim Beach respectively. Joining this musical canon – albeit as a footnote – is Dave McLean’s Schemers,in which the shrewd promoter tells his origin story of hustling through the music scene of 1980s Dundee.
McLean begins his adaptation with a dubious nod to Trainspotting, showing a cuckolded thug chase young Davie (Conor Berry) down a cobbled Scottish street. This glaringly hackneyed reference is followed by many more, yet the strength of Berry’s carefree performance manages to cut through the threadbare pastiche on occasion.
Berry cuts an endearingly insouciant figure as Davie, with a long, skinny frame and a neat mop of hair.When a broken leg dashes his football dreams, Davie organises a gig to impress local girl Shona (Tara Lee). He wings it every step of the way, listening to the music he loves and making a wee bit of money in the process. Joining Davie are John (Grant Robert Keelan) and Scot (Sean Connor), fellow chancers who are cut from the same happy-go-lucky cloth.
Soon, Davie is booking acts from Simple Minds to XTC out of a phone booth, using his most refined Dundee accent as he clutches deals by the skin of his teeth. It’s a typical story of how success can just happen, snowballing without hitch or regulation. That is, however, until he attracts the attention of authorities both public and private, official and unofficial. Councilors impose their bureaucracy, while Fergie (Alastair Thomson Mills), the local underworld chieftain, wieldshis thuggish clout. Davie navigates these issues, though, and he soon hits the big time with an Iron Maiden gig, which would become a formative experience for the young Scotsman.
This post-punk, new wave milieu may appeal to die hard fans of the music, the era and the city of Dundee, but to everyone else it’s decidedly middling. The full extent of Schemers’ triteness becomes quite jarring as we’re inundated with freeze frames, Davie’s gratuitous narration, and scenes that just feel cut and paste. “And there she was”, narrates Davie, as he meets eyes with Shona across the dance floor. Sure, people meet this way, but it’s all packaged in a very familiar retro-flavoured narrative.
Some will question the ego of an individual who has directed their own life story. However, as filmmaker Mark Cousins pointed out, there is a robust tradition of filmmakers doing just that, from Alejandro Jodorowsky to Federico Fellini. Don’t take that as any kind of comparison, though, because Dave McLean’s film has neither the depth nor the style to have one invested.