A break-up shake-up comedy that makes you think about every bad relationship you ever had in Brakes. A Welshman, a Scotsman, and an Irish Manic Pixie Dream Girl try to find the punchline to that joke in the endearing but clumsy drama Moon Dogs


The nineties and early naughties were awash with improvisational hand-held digicam noodling, and it takes a certain dogged determinedness to return to that dry well today. Made over four years on a microbudget of close to nothing, Mercedes Grower's debut Brakes is certainly determined, but not to any clear end. Though often sharp and funny, it wears out its welcome even at a slight 84 minutes.

Framed with a backwards conceit of break-ups first, meet-cutes second, we drop in on several unconnected couples as the painful reality of doomed and unrequited romance is mined for a mix of cringe-comedy and poignancy.

Due to its disconnected structure, long production and loose improvisation, Brakes is starkly hit and miss. Julia Davis' scenes as a desperate luvvie mixing work with pleasure are an absolute delight, but the aimless - and zanily halloween costumed - fight between Salena Godden and Daniel Roch's superficially defined nobodies is an unfocused sketch - sans laughs - that leads nowhere.

There are threads throughout thematically, but tonally things shift uncomfortably. The absurdism of Julien Barrett's creepy lovelorn stalker, with ukulele serenades and physically forced ice-cream sharing, abuts awkwardly with the straight-faced pain of Paul McGann and Kate Hardie's this-time-for-sure break up on a train platform.

It can be easy to forget these problems, though, when the film comes together for the occasional fantastic scene. The self-made domestic hell of Kerry Fox and Roland Gift's verbal knife fight is a pitch-perfect reproduction of a long-stale relationship. The conceit of the film suddenly springs to life when you later see the relationship begin, with some - now tragic - sparkly flirting. Still, more careful arrangement and control of improvisation was needed overall for less whiplash when thrown from one tone to another.

One major failure that sticks out, and is somewhat unforgivable, is the complete lack of equal queer relationships. The single example of homosexuality - purely sexual, between Barrett and John Milroy - is regretted and comes across, regardless of intent, as using gay panic creepiness for laughs. I expect much better from British alt-comedy.

I'm not sure what Brakes is trying to say about modern relationships on the whole, if anything. The film is a mess, but one consisting of some great extended sequences. The anarchic DIY aesthetic and performance is part of its charm, but also such a significant reason for its failures. More top-down cohesion and stricter vision would have benefited the film without necessarily scrapping what works in the freewheeling methods.

Moon Dogs

The feature debut of TV director Philip John (Being Human, Downton Abbey, Outlander) Moon Dogs is a touching and lively mismatched buddy road-movie that suffers from a bad case of Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

Two step-brothers, guileless Welsh Michael and Scottish musical hermit Thor (Jack Parry-Jones and Christy O'Donnell), share no fraternal affection. But when Michael suspects that his distant girlfriend Suzy (Kate Bracken) is cheating on him, he calls on Thor to help him get from their home in Shetland to Glasgow, by posing as a local wedding band to pay their way.

Saved from having their trip cut short through the wily ways of Irish emo-MPDG Caitlin (Tara Lee), who tags along, the brothers boat, walk and hitchhike through beautifully photographed Scottish landscapes, towards their individual goals in Glasgow. Sexual tension and bickering provide the laughs along the way, while the mysterious Caitlin serves her narrative purpose by shocking Michael and Thor out of their ruts.

What follows is an entertaining trip, but sadly differs little from the mass-produced coming-of-age male fantasies of John Green adaptations and clones. The script by Derek Boyle and Raymond Friel is dotted with cliches and pat idiosyncrasies - with the philosophical musings of Caitlin particularly grating - which cloud the droll dialogue and heart-warming story of maturing brotherly affection.

Ridiculous detours - one into a gangland fighting club and another into a puppet-filled drug trip - completely upset the flow and tone of the film, threatening derailment, but Moon Dogs eventually adjusts course so that the emotional finale comes across as genuine and affecting.

While O'Donnell and Lee are fine, they struggle to enliven poorly drawn characters. Jones is the star here. He was given the most well-rounded character to play, but with nervy energy, great comic timing and a fearless commitment to Michael's smug dislikability, he's the solid centre to an inconsistent film.

Erratic and contrived, Moon Dogs offsets these scatty and hackneyed elements with enough mordant humour and witty banter to remain consistently enjoyable.