Saturday 2 September 2017

On the high road: "Moon Dogs"

The modest Brit indie Moon Dogs is a peculiar mix of fresh, fun, very workable ideas and first-feature sloppiness that may present as an obstacle to full enjoyment. Much of the fun stuff resides in its close, Bill Forsyth-esque observation of two sensitive-awkward late-teenage stepbrothers growing up on an especially remote stretch of the Shetland coast: Thor (Christy O'Donnell), son of a Viking enthusiast, but otherwise an arty recluse who leaves his bedroom only to premiere his disastrous nu-folk noodlings for the beardily bemused patrons of the village watering hole; and Michael (Jack Parry-Jones), notionally the worldlier of the two - in that he's had occasion to sneak one girl into his room, not that anything much happens - yet left behind while his beloved drifts off to uni at Glasgow, growing increasingly frustrated and bored while working a dead-end job at the local fish factory. (His supervisor has one very Forsythian line: "Those prawns won't decapitate themselves.")

From the off, there are odd blips in continuity and logic. The stepbrother thing explains away some of the incongruity, but it's never properly understood why one of the leads is Scottish, the other Welsh, beyond the need to placate the funding organisations involved, and there's a bizarre episode where Michael falls into a lake the night before a big exam only to show up at school the next morning dripping wet. (Could he not have gone home in the meantime to towel down or change?) In theory, we could leave all these blips behind when the boys set off to Glasgow in the company of Caitlin (Tara Lee), a no-nonsense waitress who appears just the gal these local heroes need to bash or fuck some sense into them, yet even here, there's some confusion as to who initially commandeers the boat the boys set sail on, and exactly where it's headed. Again and again, you wish director Philip John and his writers Raymond Friel and Derek Boyle had taken a little extra time to polish their plot points.

The subsequent jaunt gains visually from being let loose in some verdant Scottish countryside, but feels a little diffuse dramatically. Friel and Boyle establish an endpoint, in the Celtic Connections festival Caitlin is due to perform at, but mostly you sense John and his leads making scenes up as they go along, much as David Mackenzie did with the performers in their festival movie You Instead: we're offered drinking games, absinthe fantasias, a tentative love triangle, lots of hitchhiking, and the destruction of a violin for no specifically defined reason. Lots to cheer along the way, not least several bright turns (Parry-Jones plies a hilarious line in sexually frustrated huffing and puffing), a rocking Anton Newcombe score, and - at the last - a Denis Lawson cameo, underlining the Forsyth connection; you'll likely come away hoping to see further ventures from the same team, but also that next time John and co. arm themselves with a carefully plotted routemap, as their inspiration generally did, rather than this rough, occasionally rewarding, back-of-an-envelope itinerary.

Moon Dogs is now playing in selected cinemas. 

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