Ordinary Angels Review

Hilary Swank and Alan Ritchson lead an emotional and inspirational film about faith that is formulaic but effective.

Last Updated on February 21, 2024

Plot: Based on a remarkable true story, centers on Sharon, a fierce but struggling hairdresser in small-town Kentucky who discovers a renewed sense of purpose when she meets Ed, a widower working hard to make ends meet for his two daughters. With his youngest daughter waiting for a liver transplant, Sharon sets her mind to helping the family and will move mountains to do it. What unfolds is the inspiring tale of faith, everyday miracles, and ordinary angels. 

Review: When I first saw the trailer for Ordinary Angels, I wrote it off without a second thought as another faith-based drama designed to tug at the heartstrings and reinforce the unlimited power of God. In recent years, there has been a surge in movies like this; few have risen above the minimal viable bar for them to be considered watchable by mainstream audiences. To my surprise, the film is not an overt case for Christ, like many of director Jon Gunn’s previous projects. By tackling a tale that was news three decades ago, this film retells a story that is likely unfamiliar to most today. Rooted in an inspirational true story that happens to be tangentially connected to religion, Ordinary Angels is a fairly by-the-numbers effort elevated above the quality of Lifetime and Hallmark original productions thanks to solid performances from Hilary Swank and Alan Ritchson.

Ordinary Angels review

Set in 1994, Ordinary Angels opens with a flashback to the birth of Michelle Schmitt (Emily Mitchell) to Theresa (Amy Acker) and Ed (Alan Ritchson). Not long after, Michelle dies, leaving Ed to care for his two young daughters, including the eldest, Ashley (Skywalker Hughes). With the help of his mother, Barbara (Nancy Travis), Ed barely makes ends meet as a roofer. At the same time, local hairdresser Sharon Stevens (Hilary Swank) awakens after yet another alcohol-induced bender. Her friend and coworker Rose (Tamala Jones) takes Sharon, begrudgingly, to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting despite Sharon’s insistence that she does not have a problem. When Sharon notices a newspaper article about Michelle’s death and Michelle’s need for a liver transplant, she trades in one addiction for another and makes it her mission to raise funds for the ill little girl. Ed is reluctant to accept help from the loud and proud Sharon, but the girls like her, while Barbara considers her a gift from above. Ed, a tough and silent type, butts up against the brash Sharon even though her fundraising helps bring in thousands of dollars. Eventually, Ed softens a bit but still does not feel good about taking charity.

What follows for the next hour-and-a-half is a blend of Sandra Bullock’s accent and flashy wardrobe from The Blind Side coupled with the in-your-face tactics of Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich. Hilary Swank unapologetically plays Sharon as an intrepid and laser-focused advocate for Michelle, never once giving in when a challenge is put in her way. We learn more about Sharon through the film, including how her addiction cost her a relationship with her now-adult son, Derek (Dempsey Bryk). At the same time, we see Ed internalizing all of the pressure to protect his daughter despite her waning health and increasing medical costs. Every time a dent is made in the mountain of bills they face, a new challenge presents itself and makes it seem impossible to overcome. But, just like any movie like this, there is always a way to overcome. The story brings in a relapse for Sharon and the eventual challenge of a monumental blizzard that occurs on the same day that a donor becomes available for Michelle, giving Ed less than twelve hours to get his child hundreds of miles with every road closed and no feasible way to get there.

Make no mistake if you think Ordinary Angels is going to let you down and feature the death of a precious little child. A cursory Google search will reinforce the obvious happy ending on the way. Ordinary Angels banks on the appreciation for the journey, much of which is a showcase for Hilary Swank delivering a charming performance as a woman who will never quit. Seeing how Sharon Stevens can sweet-talk bankers, executives, hospital administrators, and everyone in between is more than enough to put a smile on your face. It seems unbelievable that this story is true, but Swank makes it all seem effortless for Sharon despite her demons behind closed doors and under her facade of positivity. Equally good here is Alan Ritchson as the stoic Ed Schmitt, a man of few words. Unlike his performance as Jack Reacher, Ritchson is much more emotive here as he is a giant teddy bear for his daughters. Ritchson also plays Ed as a strong alpha type who has to go behind closed doors to shed a tear, but it works as Ritchson and Swank begin to warm up to each other as the film goes on.

Written by actress Meg Tilly, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret director Kelly Fremon Craig, Ordinary Angels employs every single trope you would expect from a story like this. But Tilly and Craig never mined the tale for unwarranted melodrama or fabricated moments of tension. There is not much to this story outside the fundraising leading to the eventual final act race to the hospital. That third act centerpiece takes on added tension mostly from the fact that this story happened in the mid-1990s without regular access to cell phones or the internet, which makes the coordination that happens all the more impressive. Director Jon Gunn, whose films include the less than-subtle The Case for Christ and Do You Believe?, tells this story with only a few passing references to God and faith. While two scenes are set in a church, almost none of the story focuses on religion. That alone helps this film work as an inspirational tale about human beings being decent to one another without hitting the audience over the head like the recent barrage of Super Bowl commercials shoving it in our faces. Gunn keeps the story aimed at the characters, none of whom are perfect, but all of whom want to do something good.

Ordinary Angels review

Ordinary Angels does not reinvent the inspirational genre or offer anything new, but it boasts two competent and enjoyable lead performances from Hilary Swank and Alan Ritchson. As the end credits roll, news footage of the real Michelle Schmitt and the community rallied together to help save her life. Watching it, I was struck by the dramatic license taken in making this film. Not just in the sense that none of the actors remotely look like their counterparts, but their timing, scope, and drama around the event itself are very different in the movie. Even a powerful story like this needs a boost to make it into a movie that people will see, I guess. Ordinary Angels is an ordinary movie, but one that is far better than I was expecting it to be.

Ordinary Angels

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.