A coming of age road trip comedy that follows two stepbrothers and a female friend as they head from Shetland to Glasgow to rescue one of the brothers estranged girlfriends from university
Our second foray into the Edinburgh International Film Festival came in the form of Scottish, coming-of-age dramedy ‘Moon Dogs‘. Coming-of-age films are up there as one of my favourite sub-genres, and I also enjoy a Scotland-set film, so I approached this film with some anticipation. The movie centres around the travails of step-brothers Michael (Jack Parry Jones), and Thor (Christy O’Donnell) as they head off on a road trip from Shetland to Glasgow to ‘rescue’ Michael’s estranged girlfriend Suzy (Kate Bracken) from university, with manic-pixie-dream-girl Caitlin (Tara Lee) joining the pair along the way.
Director Philip John earnt his chops in television, having directed multiple episodes of British dramas including ‘Downton Abbey‘ and ‘Outlander‘, and Moon Dogs marks his first move into feature films. His experience shines through here, as he makes the most of the sweeping Scottish scenery, from the vistas of Shetland and Orkney to the inner cities of Stirling and Glasgow – all are made to look beautiful, and it is clear from these shots why the success of ‘Outlander‘ in the US has led to an increase in Scottish tourism there. Away from the scenery, I also particularly enjoyed a sequence where Michael skypes Suzy at university. The director uses the webcam format of Skype to allow the viewer to be lifted up and moved around the university dorms by a series of Suzy’s flatmates – the scene was fresh and funny, and a great way to set up why Michael wants to rescue his girlfriend.
The young trio at the centre of the film work well together, from Michael’s childish naivety and Thor’s brooding loneliness (he has the strongest of the sub-plots, packing an emotional punch), to Caitlin’s care-free promiscuity, and works best when all three are on camera together. Tara Lee steals the show as Caitlin – a teenage folk singer who has been forced into early adulthood through circumstances that are hinted at, but never explicitly told. I do feel the film missed a trick here in not focusing more on her – I would certainly like to know more of her back story – and Lee carries her character’s mixed emotions off with ease.
The film’s ending is a little too Hollywood for my taste, although the song sung by Caitlin at the Celtic Connections festival towards the dénouement is worth the ticket price alone. Google tells me a ‘moon dog’ is a rare, bright halo that surrounds the moon – an apt title for a film that certainly brightened my day.
Review by Richard Mason
Directed By: Philip John
Starring: Jack Parry Jones, Christy O’Donnell, Tara Lee, Chris Donald, Tam Dean Burn, Tanya Franks, Geoffrey Newland and Shauna Macdonald