sat 23/06/2018

Moon Dogs review - gritty, refreshing and very funny | reviews, news & interviews

Moon Dogs review - gritty, refreshing and very funny

Moon Dogs review - gritty, refreshing and very funny

Road movie meets teen romcom in a likeable all-Celtic comedy

Christy O’Donnell (left) and Jack Parry-Jones (right) as mismatched step-brothers in Philip John's rites-of-passage comedy

It’s a road movie, a rites-of-passage drama, a romantic comedy (even a teen sex romp at times), by turns whimsical, brooding and downright dark. Moon Dogs seems pulled in so many directions at once that it’s a wonder the film holds together at all. But hold together it does, and it does far more than that. There’s plenty that’s downright preposterous (more on which later), but it’s a joy of a movie – honest, funny and genuinely touching.

This is the feature debut from Welsh director Philip John, who cut his teeth on TV hits including Outlander and Downton Abbey. And it’s an all-Celtic co-production between Creative Scotland, Ffilm Cymru Wales and the Irish Film Board – a tri-nation combination reflected (very convincingly, in fact) in the film’s three young leads.

Welsh-born Michael (a gloriously nervy, needy, perpetually horny Jack Parry-Jones) has moved to Shetland with his mother so she can be with her new man, whose son Thor (smouldering, taciturn Christy O’Donnell) hides in his bedroom mashing up traditional tunes with esoteric electronica. When Michael flunks an exam, his girlfriend heads south to Glasgow Uni without him, prompting not only concerns about her fidelity (not helped by comic drunken Skype chats with her flatmates), but also a quest by the two mismatched step-brothers to win her back.

Things really kick off, though, when Michael and Thor encounter young Irish siren and woman-of-the-world Caitlin (a sultry but vulnerable Tara Lee, pictured below) at an Orkney wedding, who goes on to initiate the two lads in the ways of adults while joining them on their journey south, with her own mission to sing at the Celtic Connections folk festival.Moon DogsO’Donnell’s Thor remains under-developed as a character throughout, to the extent that his semi-secret mission to meet the mother who abandoned him as an infant feels like one element too many. Still, writers Derek Boyle and Raymond Friel balance relations between their likeable trio of leads to telling effect. Seduction scenes (unsurprisingly, both boys end up as love rivals for Caitlin’s affections) feel genuinely sexy, and honest too – notably Michael’s touching enchantment with Caitlin’s used bathwater. But there’s plenty to indicate all three’s insecurities and immaturity, too. And they’re backed up by a deck of gloriously over-the-top cameos: top of the list is Niall Greg Fulton as a thuggish lowlife who gets his comeuppance from Caitlin in an act of gruesome revenge involving his plentiful body piercings.

Alasdair Walker’s magnificent cinematography understandably lingers on the savage beauty of Shetland, with copious shots of jagged cliffs and brooding cloudscapes early on in the film. But footage of tumbledown 1970s estates and grimy bus shelters ensures Moon Dogs is far from just a misty-eyed travelogue. That goes for the director’s thoughtful tone throughout his movie, too – it’s gritty and hard-edged rather than sweet, often bitingly sarcastic rather than gently chucklesome.

Back to those preposterous bits, though – and indeed, Moon Dogs is far from pitch-perfect. The family relationships that John describes can’t help but feel rather predictable, all sulky adolescents and parents desperate to maintain bonds with them, embodied in Jamie Sives’s well-meaning dad Maurice's keenness to arm-twist his son Thor into dressing up as a Viking for one last Up Helly Aa festival. And is it too pedantic to wonder why, if they’re heading down to Glasgow for January’s Celtic Connections celebration, everything on their trip reeks of a wet Scottish summer?

Nevertheless, John has a deft command of mood and emotion, and he pulls off something very special in blending the wide-eyed wonder of youth with the gritty realities of the adult world, and balancing what might be familiar – if disparate – ingredients in a refreshing way.

A thuggish lowlife who gets his comeuppance from siren Caitlin in an act of gruesome revenge involving his plentiful body piercings


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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