Schemers is about what you’d expect from a low-budget, earnestly made coming-of-age drama set in the 1980s about a precocious teenager with a gift for gab but no wisdom to back it up. Davie (Conor Berry) is a small-town Scottish punk with a gambling problem, dreams of riches and a deep love of music. His life flows from one scheme to the next, generally with a few angry debtors on his tail or the infuriated boyfriends of his romantic indiscretions.
One escapade of the lower brain lands him in a hospital, where he meets Shona (Tara Lee), with whom he strikes up a mutual flirtation. He and his friends, John (Grant Robert Keelan) and Scot (Sean Connor), decide to make some big money promoting bands to their town of Dundee — money to get them out of debt, impress girls and maybe even buy them a ticket to London or somewhere even more exciting.
If you told me I would sit down and watch a 90-minute semi-autobiographical story about the person who turned out to be the manager of the band Placebo, well, I’d have been pretty skeptical. Turns out I did without knowing it and probably enjoyed the film better because of it. Dave Mclean, whose career took him from promoting grunge bands in the 1990s to managing Placebo and Kyle Falconer now, makes his directorial debut with Schemers. He does a pretty great job telling his own story, with a script he also helped write. McLean is careful to reconstruct the Dundee of his childhood and does a good job capturing the roughness of his younger self.
It’s a credit to Berry, too, that Davie isn’t completely unlikable. His addictions and behavior certainly seem so on paper. He treats his friends poorly and himself even worse. He learns to fix the former, although the latter is an open question at the end of the film as he darts off to bigger and scarier adventures (although things clearly worked out for the real-world Mclean).
Additionally, Lee is strong as Shona, whose role thankfully doesn’t fall into the “smart woman who falls for and forgives the louse” stereotype that permeates this type of male, middle-aged reminiscence.
The script pits Davie at odds with the Dundee criminal element, and some might find the villains cartoonish. But honestly, I appreciated the fact that, whether true or not, there actually were villains in the piece to provide a ticking clock to the story. Schemers doesn’t do much that’s new with the genre, but it has a few notable performances and a better-than-average approach to making the “real story” exciting. It’s an above-average, music-drenched semi-autobiography.