Ordinary Angels (2024, dir. Jon Gunn)

by | Apr 24, 2024

Certificate: 12A

Running Time: 118 mins

UK Distributor: Sony Pictures

UK Release Date: 26 April 2024

WHO’S IN ORDINARY ANGELS?

Hilary Swank, Alan Ritchson, Emily Mitchell, Skywalker Hughes, Nancy Travis, Tamala Jones, Drew Powell, Nancy Sorel, Amy Acker

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Jon Gunn (director), Kelly Fremon Craig and Meg Tilly (writers), David Beal, Jon Berg, Johnathan Dorfman, Kevin Downes, Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin, Sarah Johnson, Roy Lee and Dave Matthews (producers), Pancho Burgos-Goizueta (composer), Maya Bankovic (cinematographer), Parker Adams (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A hairdresser (Swank) attempts to help a struggling family…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON ORDINARY ANGELS?

Part of me would like to imagine that Ordinary Angels, from director Jon Gunn, was genetically developed and grown in a secret laboratory, by scientists hoping to engineer the most crowd-pleasing film of all time. It has all the hallmarks of a typical audience favourite, to a point where it’s almost shamelessly saccharine, from its heart-warming family values to personal redemption arcs to the fact that it’s loosely inspired by real events (because of course it was), with even a little bit of God thrown in to appease the more faith-based crowds.

To say that would suggest a huge level of cynicism on this film’s part, but the surprising thing about Ordinary Angels is that it mostly holds itself together. While one can easily debate the true intentions of producers Andrew and Jon Erwin – the brothers having built, through their Kingdom Story Company production house, a mini-empire of corny but well-intentioned religious-themed films such as I Can Only Imagine, I Still Believe and Jesus Revolution, with this one falling directly into that category – the film itself has some powerful moments that do come across as genuine, even if it is as fluffy and safe as they come.

Set in the early-to-mid 90s, we meet Sharon (Hilary Swank), a Kentucky hairdresser with a drinking problem so severe that her friend Rose (Tamala Jones) forces her along to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting as soon as she wakes up from the night before. One day, Sharon learns about a critically ill young girl named Michelle Schmitt (Emily Mitchell), who is on the waiting list for a life-saving liver transplant, but in the meantime her recently widowed father Ed (Alan Ritchson) is struggling to pay off his daughter’s outstanding medical debts, while also trying to keep a roof over his, Michelle and other daughter Ashley’s (Skywalker Hughes) heads – figuratively and literally, since he’s also a roofer. In response, Sharon decides to do whatever she can to raise funds for the family and help them out with their other issues, culminating in a miraculous event during an unprecedented blizzard when, against all odds, young Michelle may just get the help she needs thanks to the goodness of other people.

In many ways, Ordinary Angels is the kind of faith-based film that should be seen as a how-to guide on promoting good Christian values without alienating or demonising non-religious audiences. There are far too many God-fearing films out there which spread such hateful and offensive messages in the name of their religion, so to have one like this which focuses much more on humans simply being kind and caring to one another, regardless of their stance on faith, is depressingly revelatory. Unlike most of them, even the nobler ones by the Erwin brothers, Gunn’s film doesn’t even lean that heavily into religion. Though main characters are seen attending church while others proudly identify as Christian, they are ultimately not defined by their faith, nor do they look down upon others who may not share the same beliefs. Instead, the film is much more about people going out of their way to help others and expect almost nothing in return, not because of a higher power or even divine intervention, but because it’s simply the right thing to do.

The good Samaritan leading the cause here is Hilary Swank, in a role that the two-time Oscar winner brings a healthy amount of charm and grace to, even when her more prominent flaws are on full display, which makes her endlessly watchable. The character herself can often come across as too saintly, to a point where she manages some rather major accomplishments that can only be possible if she had a magic wand and fairy wings, but Swank is fiercely committed to the part, and her infectious optimism does rub off well on both the viewer and other characters, including this gruff and grief-stricken parent that Alan Ritchson plays. Despite the fact that he looks distractingly near-identical to Chris Pratt here (to where I had to remind myself more than once that it’s not actually him in this movie), the Jack Reacher actor similarly turns this stubborn and withdrawn character into a truly empathetic person. You’re certainly rooting for him as he does whatever he can to support his young daughters, particularly sickly little Michelle who, despite being central to the film’s plot, is largely reduced to cutesy one-liners instead of being her own well-rounded character, and he gets some powerfully emotional moments that bring out his genuine soulful nature as a performer.

It’s a competently made film, with decent cinematography and a moving musical score, though the script is, again, never as eager to challenge itself more than necessary. While there are some well-written scenes – partially (I’m assuming) due to co-writer Kelly Fremon Craig of last year’s coming-of-age gem Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. – as well as heavy themes like alcoholism and family grief, they’re all played fairly safe, as though the filmmakers felt that audiences couldn’t handle such topics in any kind of realistic fashion. It also moves along at a somewhat slow pace, with the main incident that’s plastered throughout most of the film’s advertising not coming into effect until the third act, by which point you might have grown weary of waiting for it to actually happen. Luckily, there’s enough good acting and noble messages to hold your interest, but Ordinary Angels is a film that definitely requires much of your own faith to see it through most of it.

For most audiences, those flaws won’t matter, because the film as a whole carries a truly warm-hearted nature that makes it very easy to like. Blame it on the noble if slightly murky intentions of its producers, or even the scientists who (again, in my personal head canon) engineered it to be the perfect crowd-pleaser, but Ordinary Angels accomplishes everything that it needs to, for better or worse.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Ordinary Angels is a safe but emotional crowd-pleaser that promotes the goodness of people without leaning too hard into its faith-based origins, with strong acting and a warm heart to overcome some of its corniness.

Three out of five stars

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