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New Release Review - MOON DOGS

moon dogs film review
Two brothers' road trip to University takes a detour when they encounter a young woman on the run from criminals.







Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Philip John

Starring: Jack Parry-Jones, Christy O'Donnell, Tara Lee, Chris Donald, Shauna Macdonald, Kate Bracken

moon dogs poster


The road movie, with its transitory narratives of self-realisation and spiritual attainment, is a generic framework ideally suited to teen comedy/drama. When you are a teenager, an urgent threshold age, you are either running away from something (the past, a prefabricated identity) or towards somewhere else (a future, the person you hope to become). Remember the insistent feeling that somewhere out there a big party was going on which you hadn’t been invited to (at least, not yet), that perpetual itch? If life is a road journey, then sadly, for most of us, being an adolescent is akin to being stuck at the motorway services; neither here nor there, waiting to leave but forced to stay and watch everyone else zooming off down dangerous roads to seemingly exciting destinations.

In Moon Dogs, A-Level student Michael (Jack Parry-Jones) is sea-locked in the Shetlands, surrounded by the cold Atlantic and the even chillier prospect of working in the local fish factory if his exams don’t pan out. The remote Scottish isle’s pretty scenery does nothing for Michael, nor does his (calm, loving) home life with mum, stepdad and oddball muso stepbrother Thor (Christy O'Donnell). Michael wants out, ‘I can’t wait to get off this fuckin’ island’, he announces to GF Suzy (Kate Bracken) in his lilting Merthyr brogue as they plot a mutual decamp to university, both kids brimming with a restless compulsion to seek adventure (Parry-Jones’ lovely, idiosyncratic Welshness adds another level of displacement to Michael’s situation: he doesn’t even seem to share a nationality with his birth mother!).


moon dogs

Of course, as is the way when you’re at that age in a teen comedy/drama, it all quickly goes to shit. On the eve of a vital exam, Michael is encouraged by Thor to help him out at a gig, which goes badly and ends up with Michael accidentally falling in to the sea and the brothers subsequently having to wait until dawn for the tide to recede. Michael, of course, eventually enters the exam hall dripping with cold sea water and flunks the test, while Suzy duly absconds to Uni and instantly takes up with some other mush.

In its first act, Moon Dogs comprises the knockabout cringe comedy of The Inbetweeners, and it is admirable how far Parry-Jones is prepared to go for the yuks (e.g. following some awkward non-sex with Suzy, Michael is reduced to kneeling at the bed and pushing his face into the recently vacated warm patch as aide-memoire to his enthusiastic masturbation, only to be immediately caught by Thor - awkward!). The relationship between Michael, who is highly strung and hapless, and Thor, who is laid back and languid, makes for a neat bass/treble dynamic (which is at its most melodic during Thor’s aborted gig at a local pub: with Thor’s Aphex-meets-busker oeuvre at odds with the parochial expectations of the grizzled regulars - hehe).


moon dogs

However, when the odd-couple siblings inevitably decide to journey to Glasgow in order for Michael to win Suzy back, Moon Dogs takes a turn for the darker. A clunky gear change introduces Caitlin (Tara Lee - exceptional), her criminal associates and a gruesome revenge against her gangster ex involving his nipple, his bellend, his piercings and some torn skin. On the run, Caitlin decides to hook up with our lads; whether he still wants it or not, it looks as if Michael will have the adventure he hankered for, after all.

The tone shifts which Moon Dogs affects (as discordant and off the wall as Thor’s experimental abstractions) make the film an utter delight. Michael, Thor and Caitlin make their way to Glasgow in a bawdy picaresque in which you are never quite sure where the narrative, or the plucky trio, is going to go next. Of course, both lads fall for Caitlin, which is encouraged by her breezy, pro-active flirtation with both of them, and, as is the way with the road movie, it turns out that all three are journeying towards not only Glasgae but hard-won self-discovery with secrets and truths to be uncovered along the way.


moon dogs

Caitlin’s character - tough, sexually liberated and prone to spouting stuff like ‘society is designed to keep you in servitude’ - is arguably a male adolescent fantasy made flesh, a paradigm supported by her representation within the film, where, unlike Thor or Michael, we find out very little about her background or motivations, and her role is mainly abbreviated to a catalyst for the boys’ destiny. However, perhaps Alison Bechdel shouldn’t concern herself too much over this one: like the lad with the hair brushed forward in Mean Girls or, more recently, Jesse in Pitch Perfect, say, the object of affection is obscured in teen films because to be young is to be self-obsessed, and to project individual aspirations on to another is an authentic if unpalatable aspect of youth, which Moon Dogs duly observes.

Written and directed by fellas (Derek Boyle and Raymond Friel script, with Philip John directing), while Moon Dogs is not exactly a lad’s movie, it is certainly a boy’s film, but it’s a boy’s film which presents the awkward lurch of male adolescence in an authentic manner, as heart-breaking as it is hilarious.

Moon Dogs is in UK cinemas 1st September www.moondogsmovie.com



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