Stepbrothers Thor and Michael don’t really get along that well, but there isn’t a better bonding exercise than coping with the times of trouble. When Michael’s girlfriend leaves for Glasgow to study and their long-distance relationship starts to crumble, he takes his brother on a road trip from Shetland to the Scottish mainland. Soon enough, they meet an enigmatic waitress named Caitlin who joins them on a journey of self-discovery.
For many generations, the “road trip” has been the rite of passage, a symbol of events that alter your understanding of the world. And what’s a better plot device to portray the transition from teenage years to adolescence? Well, there’s at least a couple that coming-of-age films use, but when it comes to the travel archetype, it’s tough to avoid the clichés that the adventure genre is literally populated with. A character that set out on a trip normally have some tough family experiences behind them, their life is crumbling, and they need liberation from the weight life dropped at them. They hit the road, do some things they never dared to do before and return enlightened. But they do tend to look great when it comes to their visual side. Sounds familiar?
If the above rings a bell for you, it won’t be that different with Moon Dogs. Thor makes music and feels misunderstood, Michael has just been forced into a gap year after an unfortunate turn of events, and neither of them gets on with their parents. When the opportunity for travel shows up, both of them jump on it; however, the interesting motives that linger behind it don’t necessarily bring fireworks as we approach the end. Along the way, it’s not too difficult to predict the turns the story will take. When you do get surprised, however, it’s because of a deus-ex-machina moment; unfortunately, many of them go unexplained, used only to progress the plot somehow.
The script heavily underuses the talents Jack Perry-Jones and Christy O’Donnell. Although the idea of two brothers who seem to be complete opposites stuck on the road together looks relatively good on paper, it loses a lot of charm due to characterisation that feels a little incomplete. It’s difficult to root for Michael as he appears far too brash and whiny. On the other hand, Thor’s story, which could grow into something really interesting, doesn’t receive as much attention and feels a little flat towards the end.
It’s also unfortunate that Tara Lee wasn’t given more space in the script – she becomes a typical Manic Pixie Dream Girl who’s there mostly to be the enigmatic, mysterious love interest. Although the ultimate turn shows how great her character could be if she wasn’t an addition to the events brought by the plot. We learn only so much about her, but the shallowness of Caitlin’s persona is an outcome of lack of background for her whatsoever. However, Tara fills in the blanks where necessary, and I believe she’s only started to show her true potential.
Moon Dogs ultimately tries to win the audiences over with humour. There’s a handful of funny scenes that capture the things every single one of us found important when they were seventeen; be it finding out that some of your friendships and crushes will be impacted by the time and distance, or yearning for the answers that life never brings us in a logical manner. However, it’s hard not to notice the dissonance between what the film wants its message to be and the attempts at delivering it in a light manner. There’s a lust for rebellion here; it’s a pity so little of it is actually executed.
Although Moon Dogs try to serve us a light-hearted coming-of-age story, the film gets lost in the abundance of more or less predictable twists that are there only to keep the kids on the road. There’s a lot of potential in the cast who do their best dealing with the script. However, we don’t get to understand their characters well after hanging out with them for an hour and a half, and that’s why the emotional impact of the film is much less than it could potentially be.
Moon Dogs opens in the UK cinemas on the 1st of September.