Ordinary Angels

Director: Jon Gunn
Starring: Hilary Swank, Alan Ritchson, Emily Mitchell, Skywalker Hughes, Tamala Jones
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 118 mins. Reviewed in Mar 2024
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Mild themes and coarse language

Inspired by the 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.

The intense joy of a birth. The sadness of an unexpected death. A crowded bar in Louisville, Kentucky, 1993, with an exuberant drinker. Then the title comes up, Ordinary Angels. What is going to happen? Any connection? And then information this is based on a true story.

With the initial emotional scenes, this is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve. It wants us to be drawn into its characters’ quests; to share the joys and sorrows. Most audiences are happy to surrender to this kind of invitation, but the blatant emotions could cause others to recoil.

This is a human story. And it is a faith story. The producers of Ordinary Angels have shown an expertise over the past 10-15 years in making ‘faith films’ which appeal at the American box office – and sometimes further. There is some God language, especially the questioning of God in times of anguish, and there are some church and congregation scenes, which will appeal to the faith audience. But they are in a setting of ordinary lives with which many audiences will identify.

And the connection? The opening birth is of Michelle, the pride and joy of her parents, Therese and Ed. The harrowing death is that of Therese – made even more profoundly sad because Michelle is suffering from the disease that killed her mother and is in desperate need of a liver transplant. Michelle is five.

The exuberant drinker of the bar scene is Sharon Stevens, a feisty character, the kind of character that Hilary Swank likes to portray (remembering her Oscars for Boys Don’t Cry and Million Dollar Baby). A hairdresser, she is in denial of her drinking problem. However, she becomes caught up in the story of the sick child and offers to help. At first glance, she doesn’t seem like the person who could help. But…

At the end of this kind of film, there are always photos of the characters on whom the film is based. And that is the case here. Ed and Sharon are still friends. But that is not how it started. Sharon organises a 24-hour haircutting marathon and raises more than $3000 for Michelle. Ed, who works on roof reconstruction (particularly necessary after a high tornado through the city) is a devoted father, also relying on his mother’s help (Travis). But, Sharon keeps on keeping on, displaying an extraordinary talent for management, for never taking no for an answer, and certainly approaching so many people with questions who want her to take no for an answer.

You will have to see how she takes over Ed’s business, approaches CEOs, media, transport officials, who want to say no but with her insistence and appeal, say yes. Ed is played by Ritchson, television’s Jack Reacher (as author Lee Child might have originally imagined him.)

Audiences will be wondering about Sharon herself – her age and drinking. Halfway through, this is explained, the sadness of her early life, and we come to understand why she is driven to make amends for her life.

There is high drama in the finale as the weather closes in and hampers efforts to get the airport for the flight to Omaha for the liver transplant, but Sharon and the community prevail. (Some bloggers have noted that the screenplay has been considerably heightened in dramatic detail from what actually occurred.)

Nevertheless, this is an emotional journey, highlighting the good of individuals and communities as they respond in times of crisis. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve.

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