A woman has a stern conversation with a man.

Film Review: Ordinary Angels


Ordinary Angels
Director: Jon Gunn

Vertigo Entertainment and Kingdom Story Company
In Theaters 02.23

The Christian movie market has been thriving at the box office in recent years, which is an impressive accomplishment when you consider that it arguably has yet to produce a single good movie. As much as I try to go into every movie with an open mind, the prospect of another cornball, warm fuzzy melodrama with a chip on its shoulder had me entering into Ordinary Angels with some degree of trepidation. 

Two time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank (Boys Don’t Cry, Million Dollar Baby) plays Sharon Stevens, a hairdresser in a small Kentucky town in 1994, who is outgoing and hard not to like, but even harder to love. A decades long struggle with alcoholism has strained many of her close friendships and her adult son, Derek (Dempsey Bryk, Willow, The Flight Machine) doesn’t talk to her. When Sharon sees a story about a woman, Theresa Schmidtt (Amy Acker, Much Ado About Nothing, Angel) who has just died, leaving behind two little girls, one of who needs a liver transplant, Sharon shows up at the funeral where she meets Ed (Alan Ritchison, Fast X, Reacher), a grieving husband who is not only trying to keep a roof over the heads of his two daughters, Ashley (Skywalker Hughes, Accused) and Michelle (Emily Mitchell, Women Talking), he’s desperately trying to find a way to get Michelle a much needed liver transplant without the benefit of health insurance. Sharon dives in with both feet, inserting herself into the family—whether Ed likes it or not—and organizing fundraisers and even managing to get large amounts of debt erased through sheer determination and a refusal to take no for an answer. There seems to be nothing that Sharon can’t achieve for this family, until  a severe snowstorm hits Louisville at the same time that Michelle is must fly to hospital for her live saving transplant. Time and weather are working against them, and it’s going to take nothing less than a miracle to save Michelle.

Ordinary Angels is a bit of godsend for the genre, an entertaining and heartwarming film that is more concerned with telling a good story than heavy handed preaching. It’s more in the vein of The Blind Side than God’s Not Dead, letting faith have a place in the story without becoming a preachy soapbox movie and, whether it’s intentional or not, it arguably makes as strong a case for healthcare reform as it does for God. While the script for Ordinary Angels is credited exclusively to actress Meg Tilly (The Big Chill, Agnes of God) and Kelly Fremon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret), director Jon Gunn and producer Jon Erwin did their own draft, and as such, it’s not on the level of Craig’s previous work. It’s still a good script, however, and Gunn (I Still Believe, American Underdog) is a capable hand behind the camera, keeping the pacing tight, the visuals nicely cinematic and letting the stellar cast anchor the film.

Swank has been badly in need of a strong star vehicle in recent years and Sharon is just charismatic and complex enough to become a great character when molded by one of the finest actresses of our time. There’s no question that Swank is a major factor in making Ordinary Angels rise above expectations, though she’s hardly the only one giving it her all. Ritchison is wonderfully understated as the stubborn and heartbroken Ed, and the tenuous friendship that grows between the two characters makes for an intriguing story. Nancy Travis (So I Married an Axe Murderer) is delightful as Ed’s mother, Barbara, and young Hughes and Mitchell come across as real kids with a minimal amount of cutesy dialogue. A sequence where Ashley and Ed sit together at Theresa’s grave and Ashley raises the subject of prayer –and whether Ed is angry at God–is the most overtly religious scene in the film, and it’s handled with surprising sensitivity and restraint.

I’ll admit that I’m grading Ordinary Angels on a bit of a curve and I’d stop short of calling it a great film. It still has its cheesy elements, and it’s the kind of “based on a true story” movie that one suspects is playing fast and loose with the facts, but it’s a satisfying and moving film that managed to win me over to such a degree that I will likely own it when it hits video. It’s the most pleasant surprise of the year so far, a return to form for Swank, and a thoroughly enjoyable feel good movie. —Patrick Gibbs 

Read More Reviews from this month:
Film Review: Bleeding Love
Film Review: The Teacher’s Lounge