Inspired by the incredible true story of a hairdresser who single-handedly rallies an entire community to help a widowed father save the life of his critically ill young daughter.

Chuck says:

“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”

It would be wise to keep this quote from Mark Twain in mind while watching Jon Gunn’s “Ordinary Angels,” a fact-based, feel-good movie that defies logic. To be sure, liberties with the events depicted have been taken, which is part-and-parcel where making films of this sort are concerned. Yet, for the most part, what is seen on screen is accurate and as fantastic as the third-act events seem to be, they did occur.

That Ed Schmitt (Alan Ritchson) is questioning his faith is hardly a surprise. His wife died of Wegener’s Disease, leaving him two young daughters to raise and now five years later, the youngest, Emily (Michelle Schmitt) is suffering from Biliary Artresia and is in need of a liver transplant. Without health insurance, he is drowning in debt and, no matter how many hours he works, is in danger of losing his home.

Sharon Stevens (Hilary Swank) is struggling with her own issues. Though she owns a successful hair salon, she refuses to deal with her alcoholism, no stranger to imbibing until she is blackout drunk. Having alienated her son, she is alone, though her friend and co-worker Rose (Tamala Jones) does her best to look out for her, taking her to AA meetings Stevens refuses to participate in.

However, during one of the meetings, Stevens overhears a piece of advice that hits home.  To paraphrase, she’s told to find a purpose that is bigger than she is, and she does so when she sees a news story on the Schmitts’ plight and Emily’s need. She raises over $3,000 in a “cut-a-thon” and is met with disbelief by Ed and his mother Barbara (Nancy Travis) when she delivers this bounty. Invited in for dinner, Stevens soon realizes the family is in need of more than a large influx of cash.

The ups and downs that take place after Stevens ingratiates herself into the family are drastic but, what with the state of health care in our country, not surprising. This is tricky material and for the most part, Gunn does a fine job striking the proper tone. He avoids an overly maudlin approach, touches upon but doesn’t dwell on issues of faith and refuses to employ too many manipulative effects. Of course, the score is a bit intrusive at times, especially during the climax, but this is unavoidable.

Swank is one of our finest actors and she wisely knows how to approach a broad character like Stevens, modulating her performance in key moments. A lesser performer would give into the temptation to take a scene-stealing approach, but she knows this would undercut the credibility of hard-to-believe events that take place. Ritchson proves to be more than a simple hunk who can convincingly snap legs or crack necks as he does on Amazon Prime’s “Reacher,” giving a surprisingly subtle performance. Much is roiling about beneath his character’s stoic appearance and in the moments he’s required to show emotion, there’s an unforced sincerity that proves effective.

What with the divided nature of our country at the moment, the movie’s power lies in its portrayal of the power of community.  While Stevens proved the catalyst for the life-altering events that occurred, the citizens of Louisville responded in a way that reminds us that great things can happen when we work towards a common, positive goal. After watching “Angels,” do a bit of research on Stevens and the events documented here.  It’ll do your heart good.

3 Stars


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