By Lynn Venhaus

If you didn’t know it really happened, “Ordinary Angels” is the type of schmaltzy movie aiming straight for the heart that some would scoff at, yet even though cynics will pick it apart, people seeking an uplifting jolt will be touched by the selfless acts of human kindness.

Inspired by the true story of Kentucky hairdresser Sharon Stevens (Hilary Swank) who single-handedly rallied an entire community to help a widowed father Edward Schmitt Jr. (Alan Ritchson) save the life of his critically ill young daughter Michelle (Emily Mitchell), who needed a liver transplant.

Those who need their faith in humanity restored can find plenty to respond to in this tearjerking drama, from the heartfelt performances to the duplication of a harrowing effort by a community responding to a life-or-death situation that really took place in Louisville, Kentucky, during an historic snowstorm when 17 inches fell on Jan. 17, 1994.

Two-time Oscar winner Swank plays a hot mess of a hairstylist who decides to help a widowed father and his two daughters after she reads a newspaper article detailing the youngest’s battle with an incurable liver disease. As brassy as she is, Sharon finds purpose in this mission and gets things done.

You know the adage, “People come into your life for a season or a reason,” well this is that moment. Thirty years ago, in one of Kentucky’s worst blizzards, a life was saved by people going the extra mile, coming together, and making things happen against impossible odds.

Alan Ritchson as Ed and Emily Mitchell as Michelle in Ordinary Angels. Photo Credit: Allen Fraser

Not that life was easy for the Schmitts under any circumstance. Think: The Book of Job. Or Stevens, for that matter.

The film is set mostly in 1993. Ed’s beloved Theresa (Amy Acker) has died of a congenital liver disease, biliary atresia, which their daughters have, Ashley (who received a transplant in 1991, which the film leaves out), and Michelle, who is in desperate need of a transplant, as medical bills mount, and her condition worsens. The film is at its best when focusing on the not-enough time and money scenario.

And then the cavalry arrives when Stevens becomes their lifeline, starting a fundraiser and then crusading for financial breaks, corporate donations and helping Ed find more work as a roofer.

 It is one of these incredulous examples of divine intervention. The film, in partnership with Kingdom Story Company, a faith-based operation responsible for Kurt Warner’s story “American Underdog,” isn’t preachy, in case you were wondering, or pandering. The filmmakers display earnest intentions, and it’s a terrific public service announcement for organ donors.

Stevens is fictitiously written as an alcoholic with an estranged grown son, and Swank sympathetically shows a tormented woman masking her pain by throwing herself into the role of miracle worker. She leans in as this sassy, saucy do-gooder who won’t take no for an answer, but her undivided attention and tenacity help a grieving family in need.

This is the kind of role Swank excels at, transforming into a force of nature. It’s inspiring to watch this flawed woman’s journey as she makes a difference, called to action (my sister refers to these ‘Godwinks’ as ‘Angels with skin on”), and restores her faith – and those around her.  

Hilary Swank as Sharon in Ordinary Angels. Photo Credit: Allen Fraser

Ritchson, who has played a wide array of tough action heroes, from Aquaman on “Smallville” and Raphael in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie reboots to Lee Child’s retired military police officer Jack Reacher on the current Amazon Prime Video TV series, is good at depicting the strong, silent type who’s hiding his pain. He’s overwhelmed by grief, medical bills and a nagging feeling he isn’t doing enough for his family.

The conflict here – because of course we need one – is that Ed resents Sharon swooping in and helping his family when he thinks he should be the superhero. He’s wary of her pushiness and questions her motives. But as he pushes back, she pushes forward. His mom Barbara (Nancy Travis), helping with the girls, considers her a gift, and so do the kids.

The young actresses playing Ashley (Skywalker Hughes) and Michelle (Emily Mitchell) couldn’t be cuter, and the situation resonates easily (and not in a manipulative way – but have tissues nearby).

Director Jon Gunn’s filming of the race-against-the-clock sequence to get to an Omaha hospital for Michelle’s liver transplant is truly remarkable when empathy and mutual aid are tested by nature’s harsh elements. Cinematographer Maya Bankovic intensely captures the raging blizzard and editor Parker Adams’ work ramps up the tension.

Co-screenwriters Meg Tilly, the actress now retired, and Kelly Fremon Craig, who wrote and directed “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” highlight the transformative power of human connection and what happens when people collectively meet a moment.

If a film celebrating community and kindness doesn’t elicit some joy during this dreary winter, then we, as a people, are in a truly sad place. We need every opportunity to see how people can respond to others in need with extraordinary compassion and resourcefulness. “Ordinary Angels” is a welcome beacon of hope in these difficult divisive modern times.

Hilary Swank as Sharon and Alan Ritchson as Ed in Ordinary Angels. Photo Credit: Allen Fraser

“Ordinary Angels” is a 2024 drama based on a true story, directed by Jon Gunn and starring Hilary Swank, Alan Ritchson, Nancy Travis, Tamala Jones, Emily Mitchell and Skywalker Hughes. It is rated PG for thematic content, brief bloody images and smoking and the run time is 1 hour, 56 minutes. The film opens in theaters Feb. 23. Lynn’s Grade: B.

By Lynn Venhaus
Morose performances, a murky plot with muddled twists, messy filmmaking choices, and with its dark, gloomy look, the dubious “The Good Mother” is a colossal waste of time.

Director Miles Joris-Pevrafitte and co-screenwriter Madison Harrison, both from Albany, New York, have set this thriller in their hometown, attempting to make a gritty mystery encased in a seedy drug-dealing scenario.

Only it’s a frustrating watch, as they fumble at every opportunity to tell a cohesive story. However, cinematographer Charlotte Hornsby uses several interesting camera angles of buildings in town — which do nothing to advance the plot — when she isn’t blurring interiors.

The junkie son of journalist Marissa Bennings is murdered, and she tries to solve the crime with his pregnant girlfriend Paige (Olivia Cooke) and her police officer son Toby (Jack Reynor). Set in Albany, New York, in 2016, as they go deeper into the seedy drug world, the truth they confront includes a dark secret.

With its pedestrian procedural plot shrouded in dim shots with shadowy hard-to-see details, the co-screenwriters are baffling because it seems like they do not want to disclose tidbits that would illuminate what really happened. Confusing and conflicting actions occur as this unoriginal story plods along like the dullest episode of “CSI” ever.

Olivia Cooke

Doors are not locked, consequences are avoided, and people come and go without much purpose. This is such a slight, dissatisfying story that one would hope the quality of the cast would elevate material, but the inertia you feel is real. Why should we care about these people?

The only character that resonates emotionally is a grieving mom honestly spilling her guts at an Al-Anon meeting.

The director wastes the talents of two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank, who plays an unpleasant hard-shelled newspaper editor who drinks too much and goes through life on autopilot. She is grieving the loss of a significant other and estrangement of her once star-athlete son, who became an addict, starting with painkillers as an injured youth. And what is with the wobbly accent?

Swank decides passivity and a glum, pouty look – a crank dealing with a daily massive hangover – is the way to capture this grieving woman. (And no way could someone who drinks and smokes like that run as far and as fast as she does in a chase scene).

Jack Reynor and Olivia Cooke are mostly believable in their roles but have a confrontation on basement stairs that stretches all credibility. Reynor, as Toby, has a pregnant wife – Gina, played by Dilone – whose character is underdeveloped and unconvincing in resolutions.

The bone-headed decisions take their toll, and 90 minutes is both too long and not enough. Midway, we still really don’t have a sense of what is really going on, as the writers-director think relying on collage-like memories will fill in the blanks for us. And what is with setting it in 2016?

Jack Reynor, Hilary Swank

Hopper Penn, the son of Sean Penn and Robin Wright, is a blip as dead son Michael’s best friend, a strung-out Ducky who is in big trouble, a major piece of the puzzle, and an unreliable narrator. But untangling this never happens.

Joris-Peyrafitte is a jack of all trades, composing the cool-kids score that seems out of sync with the atmosphere, and editing the film with Damian Rodriguez besides writing and directing. Maybe he wore too many hats but writing a lucid screenplay would seem to be the priority.

The final scene is ludicrous and leaves many loose plot threads hanging. Feeling cheated, I wanted to throw something at the screen. The lack of engagement is a serious problem that couldn’t be overcome in this ill-conceived and implausible film.

“The Good Mother” is a 2023 crime drama-thriller directed by Miles Joris-Peyrafitte and starring Hilary Swank, Olivia Cooke, Jack Reynor, Hopper Penn, Dilone, and Norm Lewis. It is not rated and runtime is 1 hour, 29 minutes. It opens in theaters Sept. 1. Lynn’s Grade: F.

Note: this review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Jack Reynor, Olivia Cooke