Following the events of 9/11, Ned Chipley (Michael Angarano) desperately wants to be a real American hero. He wants to sign up for the Marines and join the war on terror more than anything else in the world. Ned lives a fairly solitary life at home with his mum (Allison Janney) and Bob (Ed O’Neill). That all changes when a chance meeting with Tally (Melissa Benoist) leads to an unlikely friendship, a (slightly) misguided adventure and some realizations that will change the lives of everyone involved. Sun Dogs debuted on Netflix on April 6, 2018.
I think that from the very opening of Sun Dogs I had a feel for the kind of film it was going to be. I felt like the opening of the film, and the music in particular, just screamed: “I’m a quirky, off-beat indie drama.” I should clarify at this point – this is no bad thing. I very much enjoy quirky, off-beat indie dramas. In fact, it’s probably one of my favorite sub-genres, despite it having never come up as a suggested category on Netflix for me.
The film itself focuses on Ned and his aspirations to be a Marine in the first instance. Thanks to something in his past (I won’t say what because I don’t want to spoil anything), Ned is a very innocent kind of guy who doesn’t see the world in quite the same way as everyone else. Despite this, he is also a very sweet, good-natured and caring person, and this is where we join him on his journey – as someone who really wants to join the military so that he can do his part in the war on terror.
Sun Dogs portrays Ned’s character really well, I think it’s a hard line to work and in other hands, we could have been asked to either pity him or laugh at him, both of which would’ve been to the film’s detriment. The director, Jennifer Morrison (who also has a small cameo), who you may recognize from House or How I Met Your Mother, handles things superbly, injecting just the right mix of comedy and drama. The result is a film that definitely gives a few laughs, but they’re certainly not cheap laughs at the character’s expense. Similarly, the drama is just about on the right side of sentimentality and feels very human.
The two leads in Sun Dogs are really well cast and have a great connection onscreen. I think that this is pretty much the only thing that I have seen Melissa Benoist in apart from Supergirl, so for me, it was a real revelation to see her playing something so un-Kara Zor-el. What starts out as a character that you think will be utterly horrible actually flips into something else entirely. Michael Angarano is really good as Ned; this kind of performance could have been very hokey, but I think he (and the director) do a good job of sidestepping this to give a really relatable performance. The performance of the movie probably has to go to Allison Janney as Ned’s mother – it’s a really great performance with some brilliantly played subtleties. She’s someone who wants to do the best she can for her son, but also for herself. There’s a great scene between her and Tally where they’re discussing her relationship with Bob that is some of the best “staring wistfully out of the window” acting that I’ve seen for a while.
My only gripe with the film is that the story doesn’t really go anywhere. I felt like things were just getting to be interesting and that something was going to happen and then it just finishes, which left me feeling a little shortchanged. I don’t think it needed some grand, sweeping conclusion because that would fly in the face of everything that had gone before it. That being said I felt the abruptness of the ending was actually quite jarring. I could have happily sat for another 30 minutes to get a solid and satisfying resolution because as it stands I have a lot of unanswered questions.
Sun Dogs is a charming, quirky little film that shows a lot of promise for Jennifer Morrison and what she can do next – I just wish that there had been a slightly stronger finish to round out everything that had gone before it.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.