Maybe it’s the Mother’s Day endorphin rush talking, but Hallmark delivers the goods with original pic “Ordinary Miracles,” from exec producers Robert Halmi Jr. and Larry Levinson. Writer Bud Schaetzle forgoes the heart-tugging sentiments that abound this time of year but still fulfills the basic requirements of a feel-good movie. The plot, more about small acts than big choices, is pegged as a Mother’s Day tie-in but could easily stand alone as an entertaining study in human relations.
While the pic’s promos make it sound predictable, viewers will be rewarded with a quiet, little drama and steady perfs set amid San Diego’s postcard-ready locale. Jaclyn Smith (looking fabulous) stars as Judge Kay Woodbury, a career woman whose closest personal relationships include perfunctory interaction with the court bailiff and a lukewarm friendship with her ex-husband and fellow lawyer, Davis (Corbin Bernsen).
Director Michael Switzer deftly establishes the extent of Kay’s personal isolation using little or no dialogue in the opening segments of the film as we see how a typical day unfolds for her. From her beautiful but stark home to her stern and systematic courtroom, Kay’s life is a study in order.
Most of her day, she’s unwavering in her decisions, but when a glitch in the system sends a promising but troubled 16-year-old to juvenile detention because of a lack of foster care, she’s haunted by her choice. An earnest social worker helps keep the young girl fresh in Kay’s mind.
According to her file, Sally Powell (Lyndsy Fonseca) is a very bright student despite her minor brushes with the law and long list of foster homes. She has a bad-news boyfriend and a knack for making the wrong decisions, but clearly shows potential.
Perhaps Kay is feeling guilt over the ongoing rift with her father, or pangs of loneliness now that her ex is getting remarried. But she decides to take a chance and have Sally remanded into her custody for three weeks until the girl finds another foster family.
It’s at this point Schaetzle works in a few plot twists — nothing revolutionary, but not necessarily expected. In some ways the interaction between Kay and Sally isn’t all that remarkable. The two don’t forge an immediate bond, or even a mother-daughter dynamic, but they do recognize the same needs in each other, both making their share of mistakes along the way.
Since her time as one of Charlie’s Angels, Smith has made a second career for herself in TV movies, but this character seems an especially nice fit.
Fonseca is a real find, characterizing the emotional territory of someone damaged but not yet broken by the system — which makes the subplot about Sally’s imaginary conversations with her absent mother all the more unnecessary. Fonseca is compelling enough to convey that loneliness and anguish without the need for such a cheap device.
Both Bernsen and C. Thomas Howell have significantly smaller parts in the pic but make the most of their minimal screentime. Lensing by Amit Bhattacharya effectively utilizes the San Diego landscape, giving a real sense of place in a movie about finding yourself in the world.