The Magic of Ordinary Days

From: The Hollywood Reporter, January 28, 2005
by: Barry Garron

Once again, “Hallmark Hall of Fame” cares enough to send the very best, at the same time proving that the simplest stories can become the most beautiful movies. In “The Magic of Ordinary Days,” it’s as simple as this: A young woman in 1944, pregnant and unwed, is sent by her father to rural Colorado, where a hasty marriage has been arranged. She meets the young farmer only moments before they are wed and, well, if you paid attention to “Sarah, Plain and Tall,” you know where it’s headed from there.

What makes this film pack such an emotional wallop is not the heartwarming but fairly predictable final destination but the gentle tugs on the heartstrings at each stop along the way. That, combined with stunning outdoor photography and solid acting, makes this an island of romantic artistry in what, for the most part, is an ocean of crime, celebrity and reality.

Keri Russell stars as Livy, 25, a graduate student in archaeology who, despite her considerable education, bows to the wishes of her father. Her husband, Ray (Skeet Ulrich), is a shy and gentle fellow whose life, to that point, has largely been confined to the borders of his farm. Ulrich brings a quiet determination and dignity to the part. Russell gives a particularly textured performance that reflects the character’s conflicting emotions and ultimate surrender to the love she never expected to find. Her story offers hope to future generations of otherwise desperate housewives.

The film includes a parallel story in which Livy befriends two college-age Japanese-American girls, former students at USC, who were uprooted along with their still-patriotic parents and resettled in a nearby internment camp. Like Livy, the girls, partly out of respect for their parents, try to make the best of their relocation to a foreign environment.

“Hall of Fame” veteran Mare Winningham (“Love is Never Silent,” “The Boys Next Door”) gets great mileage out of the role of Martha, Ray’s goodhearted sister and the quiet voice of counsel to whom a conflicted Livy turns.

Camille Thomasson’s elegant script, based on the novel by Ann Howard Creel, discloses a transformation as sure and as bumpy as the dirt road that runs by the farmhouse. Even the most simple of scenes, a dinner table conversation in which Ray quietly acknowledges Livy’s interest beyond crops and weather, is written and played out so skillfully that it becomes the first of many Kleenex moments.

Brent Shields directs with strength and simplicity, working at a measured pace that allows the story to unfold with its own rhythm. By making the landscape an integral part of the story, he also reminds us of the power of nature in shaping human character.