With all the familiar elements of a coming-of-age film – talented young cast, dislocation between small town and big city life, and a healthy dose of sexual tension – Moon Dogs does not tread any new territory. Despite a promising start, painting an accurate portrait of the meandering final days of adolescence in its coastal Shetland setting, the movie loses its way the moment it plunges off the shores of Shetland and into its murky comedic waters.
Michael (Jack Perry-Jones) and Thor (Christy O’Donnell) are step-brothers, uncomfortably sharing the top floor of their parents’ home. Thor makes music – of the wailing, anthemic, Sigur Rós variety – and seems as uninterested in his father’s attempts at bonding as in Michael’s abortive attempts at getting laid. After Michael misses his finals because of a mishap at Thor’s latest gig, he is forced to cajole, lie, steal and sneak his way to Glasgow to see his girlfriend, Sara, with Thor in tow. En route, Caitlin (Tara Lee), an aspiring singer/waitress is entangled in the brothers’ trip, her punkish insouciance and burgeoning sexuality testing the boundaries of the boys’ relationship even further.
This reviewer wanted to like Moon Dogs. Its leads are charming, and while their characters hit narrative beats more familiar than Greensleeves (the uptight virgin, the disaffected musician and the free-spirited nympho), Perry-Jones, O’Donnell and Lee manage to mask the script’s more clichéd turns (and there are many). Indeed, the film seems to veer of course the moment the trio lands on a boat to Scotland, and as the pile of coincidences and near-escapes mounts precariously high.
Likewise, the feature’s treatment of its female characters leaves a sour taste, with Caitlin being reduced by the second act to a one-note sexual cipher for the boys’ urges. Lee’s voice is exceptional, and she commendably attempts to breathe more life into her “Irish Avril Lavigne” archetype than the script offers her, but she is barely credible, and her motives – for singing, for escaping the town, for seducing the brothers – are never explained. Similarly, we are asked to root for Michael as he leads the pair on their foolhardy trip to Glasgow “in the name of love”, but his petulant, cheating, charmless character does little to sway us over. Mercifully Thor, by O’Donnell, who threatens to steal the film, remains sympathetic throughout and is given a glimpse of a backstory. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to salvage Moon Dogs, and the weak script is a disservice to the young talent on display. Here’s hoping their next projects serve their skills better.
Moon Dogs is released in selected cinemas on 1st September 2017.
Watch the trailer for Moon Dogs here: