‘Ordinary Angels’ Is Touching, Pure and Positive

The dialogue is as simple as mud, but you can’t ignore the value of a film that finally makes you feel good about the world.

Hilary Swank as Sharon Stevens in ‘Ordinary Angels’, directed by Jon Gunn and based on a true story. Allen Fraser/Lionsgate

Sometimes, a movie with no extraordinary cinematic merits wins your heart because of the touching way it shows the pure, positive, feel-good actions of one human being to another. Ordinary Angels is that kind of film. Directed by Jon Gunn with no frills but a lot of suspense that comes out of the story naturally, without the need for any manufactured Hollywood thrills, and co-written by actor Meg Tilly and Kelly Fremon Craig, this is one of those rare emotional sagas “based on a true story” that begs to make it to the screen but seems preposterous when it gets there.  

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ORDINARY ANGELS ★★(3/4 stars)
Directed by: Jon Gunn
Written by: Meg Tilly, Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hilary Swank, Alan Ritchson
Running time: 116 mins.

Hilary Swank is an Oscar-winning audience favorite whose career seems largely based on quiet, internally motivated roles that go out of their way to conceal her beauty, sometimes going so far as to play a battered, bloodied boxer or even a man if called upon to do so. Ordinary Angels is the exception. Beauty is a pleasant side effect in the far-from-idyllic life of a drunken Louisville, Kentucky, hairdresser named Sharon Stevens, but her looks and her quirky sense of humor get her through some rough times and even rougher hangovers. 

Things change abruptly the day Sharon reads a newspaper article about a five-year-old girl named Michelle who has contracted an incurable kidney disease for which the only thing that can save her is a kidney transplant. Ed Schmitt, the little girl’s grief-stricken widowed father (played with deep sincerity by Alan Ritchson), provides a surprisingly effective partnership for Ms. Swank. Ed is first incredulous, then distrustful, and finally insulted by Sharon’s undeterred “won’t take no for an answer” determination to save him and his two children from future disaster, but that’s before he personally experiences Sharon’s genius for miracles and persuasive impact on the “ordinary angels” who make them work.

A total stranger to Ed and his children, Sharon takes it upon herself to save the dying child—one miracle at a time. In almost every scene of this wrenching, nearly two-hour emotional epic, a new miracle occurs. With no money of her own and no bogus romance between her and Ed to cheapen things up, Sharon gets hundreds of thousands of Ed’s medical bills erased, allowing him to hold onto his house, which is all the memory of his beloved wife he has left. Then Sharon not only gets the child’s position on the organ-donor list raised, but raises the money for the child’s transplant and even manages to find a private plane to fly them to a hospital hours away in Omaha—in the middle of the worst blizzard in the history of Kentucky

You can’t escape the cynicism that makes the story so dubious. The story is hard to believe. But facts are facts, and this movie illustrates them with actual newspaper clips of the events as they unfold. Reluctantly, I found myself falling for the contents of almost every frame. I almost threw in the towel when events turned catastrophic and Sharon emptied out her own personal savings account to keep them going. Sharon finds salvation by joining Alcoholics Anonymous, and her selfless humanity reunites her with her estranged son.

There are pacing problems, the dialogue is as simple as mud, you don’t have to look hard to spot a cliché pandemic, and I’m still not sure I believe it all. But you can’t ignore the value of a film that finally makes you feel good about the world you live in—and yourself in the bargain.   

‘Ordinary Angels’ Is Touching, Pure and Positive