Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story (1996) is a movie about one of my all-time favorite people. It tells the story of Dorothy Day starting as a young radical, journalist, and bohemian around 1917, through her conversion experience, to the founding of the Catholic Worker movement in the 1930’s. Moira Kelly performs well as an idealistic woman hoping to change the world and aid the poor discovering that she can only do it when she surrenders her will to God. Like many biopics, Entertaining Angels compresses history and features a number of composite characters, but gets the basic gist of Day’s story up to the late 1930’s. Unfortunately, the film leaves out much of Day’s later life, her opposition to war and nuclear armaments only hinted at in bookending scenes set in 1963. On the other hand, the makeup department made Kelly look really ridiculous as a 65-year old woman, so maybe its for the better that this film doesn’t go into Day’s later years.
As much as I want to like this movie for telling an important story and visually capturing the look and feel of Depression-era New York, I have to admit that it gets cheesy at times resembling a Hallmark TV movie. Some of the dialog is straight out of Day’s writings, which adds authenticity, but out of context they sound like “big important speeches”. Martin Sheen plays Catholic Worker co-founder Peter Maurin with an outrageous French accent that makes him unintentionally comical. Sheen’s performance is otherwise good, but the script doesn’t allow much for Maurin other than being mysterious and eccentric. While these traits are true to Maurin’s character, I think Maurin still deserved better.
So my final analysis is that this is a good but not great movie. I’ve volunteered with the Catholic Worker and the film is true to my experience. On the other hand we don’t really get a sense of what makes Dorothy Day tick. People of faith and anyone interested in an introduction to Dorothy Day will probably like this film. Anyone looking to see a great movie will probably be disappointed.