Ordinary Angels


Box Office $19.17 million;
$29.96 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for thematic content, brief bloody images and smoking.
Stars Hilary Swank, Alan Ritchson, Emily Mitchell, Nancy Travis, Tamala Jones, Skywalker Hughes.

When applied to film, the term faith-based used to summon up images of spectacularly realized biblical epics (The Gospel According to St. Matthew, The Ten Commandments, Barabbas) or what was once referred to as “women’s pictures” (Seventh Heaven, Strange Cargo, Imitation of Life), melodramas adept at discreetly entering into the record redemptive tales of conviction and spirituality. Today’s brand of faith-based films (October Baby, Mom’s Night Out, War Room) summon up wobbly constructed Christian conservative pillars of proselytization that usually place at their center a consecrated TV personality between steady gigs — think Denise Richards or Kevin Sorbo, in whom one holds little faith in their ability to act based on past performances. If properly mounted, the occasional spiritually correct film could act as welcome relief to all the comic book nihilism, but dear God, give us something more to work with than a posse of born again fugitives from the small screen putting together an audition reel for a CBN series. Hilary Swank’s mantle plays home to two Oscars, and in spite of that, I’m a great admirer of her work. Ordinary Angels, a fact-based Kleenex-puller if ever there was one, positions Swank at the top of her game, radiating southern fried charm and a verismo style of performance that are as natural as sunshine.

Sharon Stevens (Swank) sports the best hair and glad rags in the bar. Pounding shots, the unnaturally extroverted beautician is aided and abetted by a mixologist on speed dial. Even a tumble from atop the bar is not enough to keep her down. That’s left up to screenwriters Meg Tilly (doing penance for Chucky) and Kelly Fremon Craig, who are going to see to it that Sharon pays for every laugh, every gulp, every minute of the good time she had. She’s joined by best friend, and angel on her shoulder, Rose (Tamala Jones), a “magic negress” who shows up the next morning to drag Sharon to an AA meeting she’s not ready for. Stopping at a convenience store to pick up a breakfast six-pack, Sharon spies a headline on the Louisville newspaper about a 5-year-old girl in need of a life-saving liver transplant.

It’s 1993, five years after Ed’s (Alan Ritchson) wife died in childbirth, leaving the widower to look after two young daughters, Ashley (Skywalker Hughes) and her ailing sister, Michelle (Emily Mitchell). What is it about the newspaper story that draws Sharon to the funeral? Why this child? Why Ed? Anyone who tries so hard to please strangers must have something dark lurking in her past. Too much of an explanation would have colored her motivation an obvious shade of trite. And when director Joe Gunn tries to darken her backstory with a son who hates mom’s guts, he does so for two reasons. First, the lad’s rebuke sends suddenly sober mom hurtling in the direction of the nearest tavern. And without the boy, how is his presence at the climactic rescue going to make an already happy ending even happier? It’s the one subplot that played like a built-in intermission.

Two converging stories: the cauterized widower and the chatty drunk, one as stoic as the other was unreserved. If her motivation seemed a touch unfathomable, his reasoning for refusing to stand up to her was simple. He never got the chance. From her first act of kindness — a beauty parlor Hair-A-Thon raises over $3,000 — Sharon takes control, much to Ed’s muted befuddlement. She becomes his manager, and agent, accompanying Ed on a job interview that she helps him land. Sharon’s inborn extroversion is the perfect compliment to Ed’s benumbing reserve, but to the filmmaker’s credit, the romance card is never played. Through it all, Sharon is more of a mother to Ed. Any hint of intimacy between the widower and the weirdo, particularly in these surroundings, would have been deemed unclean.

With a nod to Irwin Allen, the film houses two natural disasters: a tornado and the climactic landing of a helicopter in mid-blizzard to pilot Michelle to a hospital where a replacement kidney awaits. While Ed looks on, a helicopter rotor strikes a steel wire and the whirlybird comes crashing to the ground. I’M KIDDING! Did you think the filmmakers were going to drag us through untold misery without rewarding the audience with footage of the real life, happily married Michelle playing over the closing credits? If you feel like giving your eyes a good soak, look no further than Ordinary Angels.

Special features include an audio commentary with director Jon Gunn and producers Jon Berg and Kevin Downes, as well as four inspirational behind-the-scenes mini-documentaries, and a collection of deleted scenes.


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