Ordinary Angels

When is a faith-based film not quite a faith-based film? When it’s Ordinary Angels. The movie touches on religion very lightly, permitting viewers to read between the lines if they so choose. One of the two main characters intermittently attends church, and there’s a very brief moment where his daughter asks him to pray. Beyond that, it’s all inherent in the material. In other words, faith audiences will absolutely grasp the underlying idea, while regular audiences can enjoy a remarkable true story without feeling as though they’re being preached to.

Working class roofer Ed Schmitt (Alan Ritchson) has two major blows in the space of a few years. His wife dies, then his younger daughter Michelle (Emily Mitchell) is diagnosed with severe liver disease that will require a transplant for her to survive. He’s left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills he can’t afford to pay. Enter Sharon Stevens (Hilary Swank), an alcoholic hairdresser who spontaneously decides she’s going to hold a fundraiser to help Ed’s family after reading about them in the newspaper. This leads to her completely infiltrating their lives, against his will. The only reason he doesn’t give her the boot is because her efforts yield results.

Directed by Jon Gunn (The Case for Christ), Ordinary Angels is about how average people can help create miracles. Because she’s fundamentally pushy, Sharon is able to do things like coerce CEOs into making sizable donations. And when Ed is told he’ll need a private plane to fly Michelle to a hospital in the Midwest if a liver becomes available, Sharon lines up several. She may not be a literal angel, but she makes a sizable difference in the Schmitts’ lives. Part of what allows the film to be so entertaining is the sheer number of unlikely obstacles Sharon plows through. The final half-hour, involving the attempt to get Michelle to a hospital during a record-setting blizzard, is the kind of scenario that gets you biting off your fingernails in nervous tension.

The movie works on an “amazing true story” level. At another, it works as a portrait of alcoholism. Sharon isn’t entirely benevolent. As her friend points out, the obsession with helping Ed is 100% addict behavior. She’s trying to cure herself by doing good deeds for somebody else. Swank does an excellent job projecting that notion. The two-time Oscar winner shows how this woman is using the situation the same way she uses alcohol – to run from something too painful to confront. She’s nicely matched by Ritchson, who gives a beautifully nuanced turn as the troubled Ed. You can feel the character’s grief and, later, determination.

At times, Sharon’s brazenness seems a tiny bit forced. I suspect the screenplay takes a few small liberties with the truth. The way the story plays out is also fairly traditional, with events timed for maximum emotional impact. You can’t fault Ordinary Angels too much for those flaws since the effect is undeniable. Normal people can make a huge difference, and the movie reflects that. Just like Sharon and the townspeople, you get swept up in the endeavor to save Michelle’s life. It’s a foregone conclusion how it will turn out, yet that in no way undermines the feel-good factor.

A basis in reality renders the film moving for anyone who needs a reminder that positive occurrences do still take place in the world. That uplifting message, combined with strong performances from Swank and Ritchson, is more than enough to let Ordinary Angels achieve a touching, inspirational quality.

out of four

Ordinary Angels is rated PG for thematic content, brief bloody images, and smoking. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan