Heartbreaking ‘Ordinary Angels’ Upends Faith-Based Rulebook

Hilary Swank, Alan Ritchson make unlikely allies in remarkable fact-based story

The story behind “Ordinary Angels” is almost too perfect for a major motion picture.

A woman attempting to rebuild a life stained by alcoholism rallies a community to save a girl’s life, battling a mountain of medical bills in the process.

In some hands “Ordinary Angels” would be a treacly, faith-based misfire.

Director Jon Gunn (“The Case for Christ”) had other ideas. His take on the material is faith-kissed but filled with rough, ungainly edges. That makes the story’s lump-in-your-throat moments, and there are a good half dozen or so, pop off the screen without 3D goggles.

Ordinary Angels (2024) Trailer – Hilary Swank, Alan Ritchson, Nancy Travis, Tamala Jones

Alan Ritchson stars as Ed Schmitt, a widower faced with another heart-breaking reality. His young daughter Michelle (Emily Mitchell) is very sick, and without a liver transplant she may not see her pre-teen years.

The medical bills are suffocating him, and there’s little hope a transplant can come in time to save his little “butterfly.”

By luck or fate, Sharon (Hilary Swank) hears about Ed’s plight. She’s a hard-drinkin’ gal who knows she needs something, anything, to turn her life around. She thinks she finds it in the Schmitt family, steering her formidable charm to do more than raise money for their medical bills.

She wills their small town to fight for Michelle’s survival.

You think you know where “Angels” is going at every turn and more times than not you’ll be right. Still, the screenplay by Meg Tilly (yes, that Meg Tilly) and Kelly Fremon Craig (“The Edge of Seventeen”) is shrewd enough to lean into the formula while making it feel fresh.


Sharon’s intrusion into the Schmitt family’s life is all-encompassing. Ed welcomes her support, but he’s old school enough to know she’s bullying past some serious boundaries.

It’s clear her efforts aren’t just the work of a good Samaritan. It’s a reclamation project, a way to make amends for being a distracted mother to her own, now-adult child.

Ritchson’s Ed is curt and stoic, refusing to accept help at times and making sure he’s protecting his family for Sharon’s hard-charging efforts. He can seem ungrateful, but it’s easy to see how bewildered he is processing so many pulls on his heart.

His child. His late wife. The home that marks his ties to both his late wife and a carefree past long since gone.

Ritchson underplays it like a heartland dad of yore. It’s a sneaky, powerful performance.

Swank is the opposite, a force of nature directing her energy at everyone in her path. The Oscar winner doesn’t paper over Sharon’s flaws. They’re palpable even when she’s getting things done with merciless speed.

Heck, the way she integrates herself into the Schmitt fan would give anyone pause. It’s that tension, that portrait of an addicted personality in flux, that brings life to the formulas in play.

FAST FACT: “Ordinary Angels” has an unlikely music connection. Veteran singer Dave Matthews co-produced the film, making it just the second feature film he’s produced to date. Matthews heard about the true story behind the movie and fought for it to become a motion picture.

The film’s faithful elements are modest and necessary given the true story in focus, but it’s never in the form of speeches or other unwelcome scenes. A poignant moment finds Ed’s older daughter coaxing Dad to pray with her. He’s torn between rage at God and being the kind of dad who supports his child no matter what.

What could have been a preachy, throwaway moment becomes something special, much like “Ordinary Angels.”

HiT or Miss: “Ordinary Angels” shows more than the power of prayer. It’s a testament to good actors given a screenplay worthy of the amazing story in play.

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