Ordinary Angels

After watching her friend and hair salon partner Sharon (Hilary Swank) fall off the bar she was dancing on, then continue to down shots, an escalating pattern of behavior, Rose (Tamala Jones, TV's 'Castle') intervenes, taking her friend to an AA meeting.  Sharon refuses to admit she’s an alcoholic at the meeting where she is told she needs to find something bigger than herself.  Stopping for a six pack on the way home, though, Sharon sees a local newspaper headline about a 5 year-old whose mother just passed away and is in dire need of a liver transplant and decides to take action in “Ordinary Angels.”

Laura's Review: B-

Swank’s infectious performance carries these angels a long way, but not content with portraying an already incredible true story the filmmakers add so many obstacles to this journey all that’s missing is a shark.  Still, with the exception of one or two far-fetched notions, “Ordinary Angels” works just fine.

Sharon, with her frosted Farrah shag, sparkly skirts, pink stilettos and white fringed leather jacket, decides to crash Theresa Schmitt’s (Amy Acker, TV's 'Person of Interest') funeral where she immediately draws the rapt attention of that 5 year-old, Michelle (Emily Mitchell, "Women Talking,” the personification of Cindy Lou Who), who admires her attire.  Dad Ed (Alan Ritchson, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire") greets the hungover stranger with a lot more skepticism, accepting condolences and moving on. 

Ed’s next trial is right around the corner when, sheltering his mother Barbara (Nancy Travis, "So I Married An Axe Murderer") and daughters Ashley (Skywalker Hughes) and Michelle in the basement as a tornado approaches, he notes the 5 year-old’s eyes have turned yellow and must rush her to the hospital for a life-saving transfusion.  Checking out with no insurance, he learns his latest tab is over $6K and Michelle is 6th in line for a liver that might take over twice as long to arrive as she has left.

Back at Shear Elegance, Sharon decides to stage a 24 hour Hair-A-Thon for Michelle’s medical bills and with Rose’s enthusiastic support, raises over $3K.  Arriving at the Schmidt’s door with a stuffed envelope, Sharon is once again treated warily by a protective Ed, but welcomed in for dinner by Barbara.

I don’t think that tornado ever happened and the real Sharon Stevens isn’t an alcoholic, but "The Edge of Seventeen's" Kelly Fremon Craig and actress Meg Tilly have ladled on the melodrama by providing her with a son, Derek (Dempsey Bryk), who refuses to answer her daily, teary voice messages.  And while the real Stevens certainly did raise thousands for the Schmidt family, Swank’s ‘I don’t take no for an answer’ character manages to get an almost half million hospital bill forgiven, saving the family home to boot.

Tilly and Craig do find a nice balance of Sharon’s life with Ed’s, bringing them together like a platonic romcom before breaking them up with a third act obstacle leading into the grand gesture, in this case the big finale that is the (mostly) true story the film is based on.  That would be a legendary 1994 Kentucky blizzard which shut the state down just as Michelle’s liver becomes available six hours away in Omaha.  Director Jon Gunn ("My Date with Drew") establishes lived in homes (and in Sharon’s case, not so lived in) and a tight knit community with Manitoba and Albany subbing in for Louisville.  He was blessed with Swank’s casting, but the Schmidt family is well represented as well, Ritchson her pushy optimist’s opposite, a man whose grief and guilt over not being able to save his loved ones makes him retreat into privacy and hurt pride.  Travis is the go-between, the older woman trying to support her son recognizing Sharon’s true intentions and welcoming the help.  Hughes adds some gravitas as Michelle’s older sister.  Stephanie Sy is called upon more than usual for a cinematic news anchor, her Amy Chan raising the Schmidt’s profile with an on-air interview, then coordinating the effort necessary to airlift Michelle out of the parking lot of the Southeast Christian Church.

Composer Pancho Burgos-Goizueta’s schmaltzy score is another overdone element, but despite its unnecessary embellishments, Jon Gunn and his cast convince us “Ordinary Angels” exist, a hopeful message in times of division.

Robin's Review: C+

Sharon Stevens (Hilary Swank) runs a hairdressing business and battles with her inner demons, like alcohol. When she hears the news story about a young local girl, Michelle (Emily Mitchell), in dire need of a liver transplant, she sets into motion a one-woman campaign to help the girl’s dad, Ed Schmitt (Alan Ritchson), cope with the hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical debt in “Ordinary Angels.”

I read the synopsis of Jon Gunn’s melodrama and the first thought I had was, “This sounds like a Hallmark Channel or Lifetime movie.” But, what the hell, it does star two-time Academy Award Best Actress Swank so how bad can it be. The answer is: not awful.

We meet Sharon out with her BFF Rose (Tamala Jones) at a country western bar. She gets hammered and begins dancing on the bar – until she falls off. She wakes the next morning in her usual hangover haze and her aimless life goes on – until she hears about little Michelle.

With Rose’s help, they use their salon to run a hair-a-thon to collect donations for the sick little girl. They come up with $3245 and Sharon visits the Schmitt family to give Ed the donations. He is grateful but it is not in his nature to accept charity, setting the stage of an irresistible force (Sharon) against and immovable object (Ed).

Unfortunately for him, but happily for Michelle, Sharon throws herself into helping the little family, eventually taking on the enormous task of getting Ed help to pay his nearly half a million dollar hospital debt. But that is not all as a tornado devastates the town, a donor must be found – little Michelle’s mortality clock is quickly ticking down – and emergency air lift services are needed to bring Michelle to Omaha for her transplant. But wait, there is more! A blizzard is coming and….

I am stopping there. I am not giving away much so far and do not want to deprive the viewer of the kitchen sink of roadblocks and disasters that litter the way to the big finale. The only thing missing is the arrival of aliens – the outer space kind.

I was right with my instinct in spotting a Hallmark Channel movie and, brother, does “Ordinary Angels” fit the bill – even the title is a giveaway. But, I was also right that Swank, channeling the can do attitude of Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich (2000),” could pull it off. Too bad that Alan Ritchson, as Ed, gives only two dimensions to his character, even overshadowed by little Emily Mitchell as Michelle.

I do not think that I will be changing from TCM to Lifetime anytime soon but, here, the filmmakers do sort of get a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

Lionsgate opens “Ordinary Angels” in theaters on 2/23/24.