Friday 1 September 2017

MOON DOGS review

When Michael (Jack Parry Jones) suspects his girlfriend is cheating on him whilst away at university, he decides to make the trek from his home in the Shetland Islands to Glasgow, taking his step brother Thor (Christy O'Donnell) along with him. Having to lie, cheat and blag their way there, they enlist the help of Caitlin (Tara Lee), a feisty singer who wants to get to Glasgow so she can perform at the Celtic Connections festival, even if she doesn't have a band to back her up. Or does she?

It's a basic setup not a million miles (or even the distance from the Shetland Islands to Glasgow) away from the 2002 road trip comedy, Road Trip with added John Cusack 80's classic The Sure Thing, and the film is scattered with moments that would not look amiss in an American high school comedy, with occasional dips into much darker territory that seem to be present to stop the tone from getting too light.

After the initial drawn out set-up that sees Michael fail his final exams because of his stepbrother Thor, it's the introduction of Tara Lee's Caitlin that really kicks the film's plot into gear. Showing more attitude than she was called upon to show in A Date For Mad Mary, it's her characters actions that really drive the film, often veering into Manic Pixie Dream Girl territory as Michael tries to win back his girlfriend. I've always been a hesitant defender of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype that Caitlin surely is, as although she's edgy, charismatic and sexually confident, she's not just all black nail varnish and raging insecurities. It's hard not to be completely enamoured with her character after hearing her sing, and she is in completely in control of her end goal and is using the two stepbrothers to help her achieve that. Although she may do so unwittingly (or wittingly), she is not just present to fulfil the many fantasies of the lead male.

She does have a damaged, Silver Linings Playbook quality and a dark past thats surface is only scratched at during a scene where they steal from some sort of small town drug lord; and even if certain aspects of her story are a tad predictable, Lee's performance is still enjoyable throughout. Likewise, Jack Parry Jones' Michael has sparky chemistry with Lee and the two share a number of memorable scenes. Sadly, the same can't be said for Christy O'Donnell's Thor, who as a multi-instrumentalist descendant of Vikings/teenage runaway should not be the least interesting character in the film. He's only noticeably present when the love triangle scenes come into play, but even then it's pretty clear that one of the sides of this triangle is not as developed as the others. To be fair to O'Donnell he does exactly what is asked of him, but his characterisation is weak in comparison to the others.

In its final act Moon Dogs goes to great lengths to resolve one of its storylines, but it's the least interesting and least developed of the story arcs, leaving another hastily resolved and the other hanging in the balance. I can only assume that this is because the film didn't know how to satisfyingly resolve the other, more interesting arcs, but it's a real dramatic flaw that damages the resolution of the entire film. It's as if the writer chose this moment to desperately avoid cliches at all cost, but it's here that a bit of narrative predictability would have been appreciated.

Despite its obvious mis-steps there is still a spark of something special within Moon Dogs. The scenery on their road trip is attractive, there's some decent, inventive music that truly makes the best of their celtic connections and there's a lot of promise of greater things shown by the lead actors.

Moon Dogs is out now in cinemas.


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