Sun Dogs (2017)

Sun Dogs
Director: Jennifer Morrison
Writer: Raoul McFarland
Cast: Michael Angarano, Melissa Benoist, Allison Janney, Ed O’Neill, Eric Christian Olsen, J.R. Ramirez, Alexander Wraith, Xzibit, Jennifer Morrison
Seen on: 21.3.2021

Content Note: ableism, suicide

Ned (Michael Angarano) has one goal, and one goal only: he wants to join the Marines to fight against the terrorists who caused 9/11. He has been trying every year for three years since 2001, not realizing that he will never make it because of his disability. When he makes yet another attempt, the recruiter Master Sgt. Jenkins (Xzibit) tries to let him down easy by sending Ned on a mission at home, not anticipating that Ned takes this mission absolutely seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he even convices Tally (Melissa Benoist), a rather lost, young woman, that the mission is very real and that she can help.

Sun Dogs is sweet and warm, but I wasn’t entirely comfortable with it, I have to admit. Despite that, I’d say that the good outweighs the bad here.

The film poster showing the film's main characters. Front and center Ned (Michael Angarano), saluting while clutching a mascot head.

Let me start with what made me uncomfortable about the film. Foremost it’s the fact that Angarano is not disabled himself, but cripped up for the role. That is pure ableism and renders the empowering perspective of the film a bit moot. Speaking of the empowering perspective: Ned is a bit of an inspiration for the ableds around him, and the movie is, I think, mostly geared towards ableds with its message: Everybody can be a hero, even a disabled dude! If Ned can be a hero, so can you! This also feeds into ableist tropes.

That being said, Ned is a well written character who does get to grow in the film and who does not have to give up his dreams, but just adjust them. In fact, he gets to be a disabled character who has dreams and who sees them fulfilled. That’s not too often the case, so props to that.

Ned (Michael Angarano) and Tally (Melissa Benoist) on their mission.

I also felt a little uncomfortable with the whole unquestioned “marines are heroes” angle. USA militarism really came through here. That Ned’s “mission” is bound to fail certainly isn’t because the mission itself is problematic, but because he goes about it the wrong way.

But apart from that, Sun Dogs is very enjoyable. It has a wonderful warmth and Morrison has a really good hand for character moments. She and the cast really come together nicely here to bring the script to life. So, despite my misgivings about some of the film, overall, it is a really nice watch and a pleasant way to spend an evening.

Rose (Allison Janney) looking pensive.

Summarizing: cute.

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