Review: ‘Ordinary Angels’

Alan Ritchson Shows A Different Kind Of Strength In Feel-Good Drama That Puts Its Faith In People

Jack Reacher star Alan Ritchson shows a different kind of strength in Ordinary Angels, as his muscles don’t mean much when faced with a dying girl and the Hellish healthcare system. The fact-based drama with a faith-based core comes from The Erwins, who  through their Kingdom Story Company banner have the market cornered on Christian movies geared towards a specifically devout audience. But for this godless heathen, their best and most accessible films have featured bigger stars and have been increasingly nonreligious, like the Kurt Warner football drama American Underdog. You could say the same for Ordinary Angels, which trusts its audience enough to know that God’s teachings are spread through the actions of people, and not beat into you by incessant heavy-handed agenda messaging.

So color me a bit shocked that I actually enjoyed Ordinary Angels despite its frequent hokeyness, overwrought delivery, and utter lack of humor and romance. What it has in spades is passion, and a lot of good people coming together to do a good thing because it’s the right thing to do. There’s something nice and comforting about that. The specifically Christian qualities have been obscured, and maybe that’s the genius of pairing screenwriters Meg Tilly (the Agnes of God actress) and Kelly Fremon Craig (of The Edge of Seventeen and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret) whose sensibilities are given room to shine through.

The aforementioned Ritchson plays Ed Schmitt, and when we first meet him it’s as his wife Theresa (Amy Acker) is giving birth to their daughter, Michelle (Emily Mitchell). Ed wouldn’t have minded to give the girl his own name, but thankfully his wife overruled that choice. Cut to five years later, and poor Ed is there in the same hospital room watching Theresa pass away, leaving him alone to care for two daughters, Michelle and older sister Ashley (Skywalker Hughes). As if that wouldn’t be difficult enough, Michelle has a rare disease, biliary atresia, and will die if she doesn’t get the needed liver transplant. We see a number of factors standing in the way of this ever happening. One is their location in Louisville, KY, placing them hours from the nearest hospital that performs the surgery, to Ed’s roofing job that provides no health insurance, to the crushing weight of medical bills left in the wake of Theresa’s hospital stay. It isn’t long before Ed is drowning in grief and debt with little hope of a miracle.

The funny thing about miracles is that they sometimes can be hard to recognize. Oscar winner Hilary Swank plays Sharon, and she certainly wouldn’t be confused with any kind of a savior. A hairdresser and hard-partying drunk whose demons cost her a relationship with her son, Sharon thinks she can hide her problems behind a stiff drink and shiny dresses. After a friendly intervention, Sharon is encouraged to live for something bigger than herself. So she turns one addiction into another by becoming obsessed with Michelle’s story. She determines to help Ed and his family see through this time of need, whether they asked for her help or not. It doesn’t take long before Sharon is dropping off piles of cash from pledge drives, helping out around the house, figuring out Ed’s debts, and (unbelievably) convincing the hospital to just wipe $400K in debts off the books.

It’s tough to tell who is the true protagonist of Ordinary Angels, either Ritchson or Swank. She’s the mover and shaker who gets things done, but the real burden isn’t hers. It belongs to Ed, who sees his faith shaken when all of the prayer lists in the world didn’t help save Theresa and the same ones probably won’t save Michelle, either. He’s also dealing with a certain amount of male pride; he doesn’t like all of this charity that he’s receiving, nor the attention that comes with it. He bristles against most of Sharon’s plans and outright rages against others.

But it’s just good to see Ritchson have a little more to do in a film that requires more than one-liners and lots of punching. He’s really locked-in to the role of Ed, showing moments of weakness and vulnerability, especially as his children ponder their own mortality, but also strength and playfulness in scenes with his family. It doesn’t hurt to have someone like Swank to work with. I think we forget how good she is because her films haven’t lived up to her talent very often, lately. Some of her dialogue here is merely functional or unsophisticated, but she also gets the most rousing speeches meant to restore your faith in humanity.

Director Jon Gunn has a delicate balancing act in the final stretch, as ludicrous coincidence collides with uplifting accounts of human kindness. As the worst blizzard in Louisville history strikes at exactly the worst moment possible, hundreds of locals pull together with shovels, trucks, helicopters, whatever is needed to save a little girl most of them will never know. Ordinary Angels is simple feel-good storytelling. It won’t blow anybody away, but its heart is in the right place and so is its faith in people.

Ordinary Angels is open in theaters now.

Ordinary Angels
Travis Hopson
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-ordinary-angelsJack Reacher star Alan Ritchson shows a different kind of strength in Ordinary Angels, as his muscles don't mean much when faced with a dying girl and the Hellish healthcare system. The fact-based drama with a faith-based core comes from The Erwins, who  through their Kingdom...