Saturday, May 18, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Ordinary Angels’ is Surprisingly Compelling and Balanced

Director: Jon Gunn
Writers: Kelly Fremon Craig, Meg Tilly
Stars: Alan Ritchson, Hilary Swank, Amy Acker

Synopsis: Inspired by the incredible true story of a hairdresser who single-handedly rallies an entire community to help a widowed father save the life of his critically ill young daughter.

Jon Gunn is the director behind Ordinary Angels. He’s a filmmaker who cut his teeth writing scripts for the Erwin Brothers, filmmakers who focus on Christian cinema. Gunn is cut from that same cloth, writing the scripts for last year’s Jesus Revolution and the underrated American Underdog. Now, he steps behind the camera for another incredible (Christian) true story that manipulates you to its heart’s content. 

However, it’s hard not to get caught up in the heartwarming glow of Ordinary Angels’s uplifting story about a community coming together to save a child. The result is a film that builds up enough suspense and goodwill to ignore some obvious genre tropes. Especially when you add two performances from stars Hilary Swank and Reacher’s Alan Ritchson, this is the artist’s version of cinematic comfort food.

Gunn’s film tells the story of Ed Schmitt (Ritchson), a father who lost his wife Theresa (Amy Acker) to complications from childbirth. He has two little girls, Ashley (Skyler Hughes) and Michelle (Emily Mitchell). It’s been four years since Ed lost Theresa and Michelle was born. Now, she has been developing consistent infections. The physicians tell Ed the lousy news during medical evaluations and tests. Michelle’s liver is failing, and eventually, she’ll need a transplant.

We then get a healthy (and surprisingly accurate) assessment of the American healthcare system. Ed works in construction and has no health insurance. He owes a little over $400,000 in medical bills just for his wife’s pregnancy and death. Through a news story looking to help provide clarity for Michelle’s upcoming medical bills, a woman with a drinking problem, Sharon Stevens (Swank), sets her mind to help through grit, determination, and a clear violation of boundaries.

Ordinary Angels has an impressive pedigree, particularly from the writing team. The script was written by Kelly Fremon Craig, the scribe behind the cult hit Edge of Seventeen and one of last year’s critically acclaimed darlings, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. The other writer is a novelist and an Academy Award nominee for her work in Agnes of God, Meg Tilly, often mistaken for her sister Jennifer.

Their script is a good one that combines the subtle themes of the genre with a heartfelt story that’s uplifting and builds some genuine suspense. Particularly in the final act, if anyone has been caught in a snowstorm with a whiteout, it is one of the most nerve-racking experiences you’ll ever have. Fold in the look of a pale four-year-old who has days to live, racing to the hospital for a life-saving transplant can be overwhelming.

Now, the storytelling is relatively generic. Swank seems to channel her inner Leigh Anne Tuohy from The Blind Side. You can also appreciate the acknowledgment that she has replaced her addiction to alcohol by keeping her mind busy obsessing over him and the Schmitt family. Swank’s take on Sharon is impulsive and sensation-seeking, but she always has her heart in the right place.

Ritchson replaces his deadpan comic delivery and relentless action-packed persona from Reacher with a homespun version of a man who is simple and unpretentious. The script has him not questioning a higher authority but simply not partaking since his wife’s death, which is a refreshing take on a faith-based film subplot.

The end of Ordinary Angels is over-the-top with its sticky, sweet sentimentality. However, if you are ever going to have that type of scene, can’t we all agree it should be racing to get a four-year-old safely to the hospital for a life-saving transplant during the 1994 North American cold wave, which was the worst of its kind since 1934? 

Gunn’s film is overdone at times, but it is compelling and has a fair balance of genre themes with an inspirational quality that had me caught up in its rousing story.

Grade: B-

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