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Ordinary Angels

Just because we know where a movie is going does not mean we don’t enjoy getting there. That’s especially true when it has a solid script and a two-time Oscar-winner in a role with three key elements beloved by audiences: she’s a mess, she pulls herself together when she finds a heartbreaking story everyone else thinks is hopeless, and she somehow manages to triumph over the most daunting of obstacles. 

Oh, come on, that’s not a spoiler. This is BOATS (based on a true story, complete with updates and photos of the real people over the credits), and it is clear from its first moments that this movie is designed to have us smiling through tears by the end. The contrast between the two words of the title is all we need to tell us what the story will be. 

Hillary Swank plays Sharon, a Louisville, Kentucky hairdresser and co-owner of a successful salon. She does hair by day and parties hard by night. When her friend drags her to an AA meeting, she walks out, goes to the store, and buys a six-pack. At the cashier stand, Sharon sees a headline in the local paper. Michelle, a five-year-old girl who just lost her mother, is desperately ill. Sharon sees this as an opportunity to help and an opportunity to care. She goes to the funeral and introduces herself to the family. 

Michelle (Emily Mitchell) and her older sister Ashley (Skywalker Hughes) are captivated by Sharon’s warmth and the sparkles on her clothes. Their father, Ed (“Reacher’s” Alan Ritchson), who is devastated, shell-shocked, broke, and terrified, is understandably leery about a strange woman inserting herself in their lives. There is so little he can control in what is going on around him that his immediate reaction is to keep her away from them. But, as she says more than once, “I’m good at plenty of things, but taking no for an answer isn’t one of them.” 

Sharon hosts a fund-raiser at the salon and shows up at Ed’s door with an envelope full of cash. Ed’s mother Barbara (Nancy Travis) invites her to stay for dinner. Ed is still very reluctant. “She’s a mess,” he tells Barbara. “Then she’ll fit right in,” his mother answers. Then comes the roller coaster of challenges and conflicts as Michelle gets sicker and the financial burden becomes more insurmountable. 

The screenplay, by “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret’s” Kelly Fremon Craig and actress/writer Meg Tilly gets sugary, especially in the scenes with the adorable young sisters. Ritchson has the difficult task of playing a stoic character who says very little, holding words and emotions inside for fear that if he let go, he would never regain control. Swank does better with a character who presents another set of challenges. Sharon is impulsive and irresponsible in some ways and very focused and capable in others. The film zips by so many crises and so many good deeds for the family that it undermines the emotional impact of all that she accomplishes. At the climax, the screenplay does not trust the audience and has to resolve one more disastrous conflict on top of the already massively dire collision of catastrophes with a Capra-esque climax that brings the whole community together and then adds a tender moment of a much-yearned for reconciliation.

The film’s strongest scenes are quieter and have more dramatic and emotional authenticity. One of the most affecting scenes is when both Ed and Sharon acknowledge their less-than-angelic conflicting emotions about her contributions, including the connection between her more destructive addictive behavior and her dedication to helping Michelle and her family. Swank’s straightforward directness as an actor is just right for the plain-spoken, determined Sharon, who just might inspire some of us ordinary folks to try to be more.  

Nell Minow

Nell Minow is the Contributing Editor at RogerEbert.com.

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Film Credits

Ordinary Angels movie poster

Ordinary Angels (2024)

Rated PG

118 minutes

Cast

Hilary Swank as Sharon Stevens

Alan Ritchson as Ed Schmitt

Emily Mitchell as Michelle Schmitt

Skywalker Hughes as Ashley Schmitt

Nancy Travis as Barbara Schmitt

Tamala Jones as Rose

Drew Powell as Pastor Dave Stone

Amy Acker as Theresa Schmitt

Stephanie Sy as Amy Chan

Erik Athavale as Dr. Ghorbani

Director

Screenplay

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