It’s just as well that the movie version of Ann Howard Creel’s novel, “The Magic of Ordinary Days” was made for, and showed on, the Hallmark channel. A calm, reassuring film with deliberate pacing and a slightly off-kilter personality, “Ordinary Days” is not flashy in any way. In fact, the film’s opening, utilizing some truly lousy scene-in-scene flashbacks, might just be the bane of director Brent Shields’ existence. If they’re anything, movie directors are notorious for seeing and hating all the little imperfections of their movie, and that minute-long opening, with young Livy (Keri Russell) riding in a train and remembering her father’s words, is quite embarrassing.
Thankfully, the rest of the film is quite good, with a strong, solid cast of young actors in the lovely city bred Keri Russell (“We Were Soldiers”) and stoic, but compassionate country farmer Skeet Ulrich. The two have excellent chemistry, made all the more convincing because of the assured script by Camille Thomasson. The film is languid in its pacing, careful to establish credible personalities instead of rushing headfirst into its inevitable and clich’d climax. And although the ending is in fact quite predictable, very little else about “The Magic of Ordinary Days” is.
Set in 1944 Colorado, with World War II raging overseas, the film stars Keri Russell as Livy, a archaeology graduate student whose studies was cut short by her mother’s sickness and subsequent death. A distraught Livy finds shelter in the arms of a soldier who is promptly shipped overseas, but not before getting Livy pregnant. “Convinced” by her father that the only course of action is to enter into an arranged marriage with Ray Singleton (Ulrich) and have the baby in the country, far from the family’s social circles, Livy all but abandons her old life to join her new, stranger husband at his farm.
From here, “The Magic of Ordinary Days” chronicles Livy’s slow embrace of her new surroundings, and does it in such a gradual and honest way that when Livy inevitably accepts her new life, it’s believable and, because we care about Ray Singleton as a man and human being, grateful. The performances by the two leads are really what make “Ordinary Days” as good as it is. Although with significantly less screentime than Russell, Ulrich still makes a fine portrait of a good man determined to make good. His Ray is a man who believes that, just perhaps, Livy’s appearance in his life is a sign of God.
We also learn that Ray’s younger brother was killed at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese surprise attack. This has consequences in the present, where Livy discovers, much to her joy, that two of the Japanese women working in Ray’s field (on loan from the Japanese internment camp nearby) are not only college educated, but all too eager to embrace her friendship. The three strikes up an alliance, a situation made easy by their separate, but relatable nonetheless, predicaments. The Japanese women are American-Japanese sisters, and young Florence (Tania Gunadi) hides the pain of internment behind a mask of smiles. Older sister Rose (Gwendoline Yeo) is easier to decipher, not having quite the layer of faÃ§ade that her younger sister has built up over the short years.
“The Magic of Ordinary Days” is a rare animal for a TV movie — it’s engaging from beginning to end and seems unbothered by necessary TV breaks that, for this DVD, show up in disruptive fades to black. I’m sure “Days” wouldn’t have worked as well if not for the subdued and believable performances of Russell and Ulrich, with Mare Winningham as Ray’s sister providing dashes of color. “Days” does well by taking its time, and within the confines of the movie, and what we’ve seen up to that point, the ending works beautifully (the superfluous German POW subplot notwithstanding).
Another plus is that, for a TV movie, “Ordinary Days” is very well directed, with some rich visuals one doesn’t usually find in films of the genre. The countryside looks inviting and grand, and there is a homely welcoming feel that easily engages the viewer, especially those who have never experienced such surroundings. The script handles Livy’s unexpected pregnancy with class, getting the point across without wandering aimlessly into crassness, and that goes for most of the film. For a movie shot on a TV budget, “The Magic of Ordinary Days” delivers great bangs for the buck.
Brent Shields (director) / Ann Howard Creel (novel), Camille Thomasson (teleplay)
CAST: Keri Russell …. Livy
Skeet Ulrich …. Ray Singleton
Mare Winningham …. Martha
Tania Gunadi …. Florence
Gwendoline Yeo …. Rose
Stephen Strachan …. Hank
Katie Keating …. Ruth