Ordinary Angels

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Ordinary Angels
dir Jon Gunn
scr Meg Tilly, Kelly Fremon Craig
prd Jon Berg, Roy Lee, Dave Matthews, Johnathan Dorfman, Sarah Johnson
with Hilary Swank, Alan Ritchson, Nancy Travis, Skywalker Hughes, Emily Mitchell, Tamala Jones, Dempsey Bryk, Amy Acker, Darcy Fehr, Erik Athavale, Don Mike, Ryan Allen
release US 23.Feb.24,
UK 26.Apr.24
24/US 1h58

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Ordinary Angels
While this film strains a bit to depict the most inspirational version of a true story, it thankfully avoids sentimentality due to grounded storytelling and nicely nuanced performances. And the events themselves are genuinely extraordinary, generating some properly punchy emotions along the way that allow the story to resonate in some powerful ways. That said, we're never even remotely in doubt about there the plot is headed.
In 1993 Kentucky, burly roofer Ed (Ritchson) is reeling after his wife (Acker) dies, leaving him to care for their sparky 8-year-old Ashley (Hughes) and 5-year-old Michelle (Mitchell), who has a potentially fatal illness that requires a liver transplant. When she hears his story, local booze-hound hairdresser Sharon (Swank) takes an interest, and perhaps she doesn't quite realise that she is seeking to add meaning to her own out-of-balance life. Her fundraising efforts help the uninsured Ed tackle his towering medical bills, but he and his mother Barbara (Travis) are understandably dubious about her motives.
Sharon's deeper needs add texture to the story, including her search for something outside herself that might bring meaning to her life. There's also her estranged relationship with her son (Bryk), which simplistically punches up her journey into sobriety but still manages to be moving. Director Gunn captures knowing details about Middle America, highlighting natural rather than political obstacles. So tornadoes and a historical snowstorm feature strongly in the plot, rather than the appallingly broken health care system.

Swank goes all-in on Sharon's sparkle-skirts, teetering stilettos and permed highlights, but is a strong enough actor to resist letting these define Sharon. It's a meaty role that vividly explores this wounded woman's journey to redemption. She also sparks strong (thankfully non-romantic) chemistry with Ritchson, who is terrific against type as a stoic man who says little but feels a lot. And both Hughes and Mitchell shine as the young girls who radiate both curiosity and strength.

Yes, this is a resolutely heart-warming movie, packed with moments that are expertly set up to coax tears from the viewer's eyes. But it's constantly elevated by Tilly and Craig's knowing script, which weaves in an earthy sense of humour, straight-talking characters and a proper foundation in real-world events. The true story and actual people are no doubt far more complex than this, but the film is well worth seeing as a reminder that we only find purpose when we open up and share ourselves with others.

cert pg themes, language 28.Feb.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall