Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story
1996, PG-13, 111 min. Directed by Michael Rhodes. Starring Moira Kelly, Martin Sheen, Lenny Von Dohlen, Heather Graham, Melinda Dillon, Paul Lieber, Boyd Kestner, Tracy Walter, Allyce Beasley.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 18, 1996
Dorothy Day remains a wonderfully fascinating and inspirational historical figure and though Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story may serve as a rudimentary introduction for those unfamiliar with her work, it hardly does justice to her complex legacy and accomplishments. From her bohemian young adulthood in the Greenwich Village of the Twenties and her work as a rabble-rousing writer for the Communist newspaper The Call, she turned to Catholicism and chose to live in poverty and work amongst the poor of the Lower East Side and publish a newspaper called the Catholic Worker. She was truly a passionate voice for the disenfranchised, working tirelessly for the rights and needs of the homeless, the hungry, the sick, and destitute, and supporting every human rights cause that dogged America from the years of the Depression to the ban-the-bomb movement. And although Entertaining Angels portrays Day's conversion as a refreshingly natural rather than apocryphal transformation, the movie still tends to cast her career in terms of her early love affairs rather than her devotion (For those keeping score, it's one abortion, one child, no husband.) It's also difficult to get a solid grasp on the film's time line, as it really only covers a few years of Day's career and there are frequently confusing chronological jumps. As Day, Moira Kelly alternates between creating compelling moments and a tedious sense of bland stoicism. As Day's mentor Peter Maurin, Martin Sheen cuts an unintentionally comic swath with his phony-sounding French accent and utopian aspirations. The Lower East Side backlot sets also have a particularly sterile and unlived-in look that distracts from the flow of the story. Despite such drawbacks, Entertaining Angels contains numerous scenes that illustrate the depth and magnitude of Day's work. One good example is the scene in which she's visited by her bishop who unsuccessfully orders her to strike the word “Catholic” from her newspaper's name. Recognizing the Church's duplicity she comments, “If you feed the poor you're a saint. If you ask why they're poor you're a Communist.” Produced by the Church-associated Paulist Pictures, who were also responsible a few years ago for the remarkable film Romero, Educating Angels is clearly a labor of love for all concerned.