Growing up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I saw a lot of “family entertainment” movies, many of which I will be going back and doing reviews for on this site. The 90s saw a huge increase in these lower-budget family movies, one of which is Ordinary Magic. Ordinary Magic was released in 1993 and is the feature film debut of Ryan Reynolds. It is based on the novel Ganesh by Malcom Bosse and directed by Jefferson Lewis.
The film opens with a scene of a 15-year-old boy, Ganesh (Ryan Reynolds) digging up a small tin containing money and photos. We quickly learn our story takes place first, and through flashbacks, in India before Ganesh travels to a Canadian winter to stay with his aunt, Charlotte (Glenne Headly). After arriving in Canada and getting settled, Ganesh watches the fireplace and is reminded of his father’s cremation back in India.
Ganesh explores his aunt’s large home and finds pictures and artifacts of a family he never knew. After mistakenly putting an electric kettle on the stove, Charlotte takes him into to town to buy him some warm clothes. After finding some, but not the most stylish, Ganesh is enrolled in school where even the teacher makes fun of his accent and mannerisms.
During P.E., his class is timed to see how long they can hold their breath underwater. Here is when we find the scene from the poster and VHS cover with Ganesh (also called Jeffrey) holding his breath for over three minutes before the teacher dives in to “rescue” him. We learn that Ganesh has learned controlled breathing and Yoga while in India, and slows down his breathing by meditating.
Meanwhile, the city’s mayor, who happens to be a former best friend of Ganesh’s father, is involved in a project to create the Grand Valley Resort. Everything is set except one small piece of land – Parcel 225 – Charlotte’s land.
Time passes and Ganesh is still being picked on in school but is befriended by another boy Tom, whom Ganesh teaches some Yoga to. Charlotte goes away for a couple of days to find Ganesh has put up all the old photos he found in the attic. Charlotte is amazed at the family history before her, and tells Ganesh of the plans to sell the house, which she is suddenly very reluctant to do.
When mobster/developer Joey (Paul Anka) decides to take the house by force, Ganesh decides to follow his father’s example at peacefully protesting by meditating on the front porch. Charlotte joins him, as does a little neighbor girl. As time ticks down, bulldozers and backhoes arrive but are stopped by the growing gathering of children on the porch. Not wanting to give up, Joey jumps in the driver’s seat of a backhoe and starts towards the protestors with an outcome all too predictable.
Until Ordinary Magic, Reynolds’s only other credits were a Canadian teen sitcom called Fifteen. Headly had a few more roles under her belt in Fandango, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and the TV Mini-Series Lonesome Dove. The duo of Reynolds and Headly carry the movie well as it goes along at a good pace. The introduction of stereotypical gangster Paul Anka (yes, he also sings in the movie) was an interesting casting choice and almost takes away from the otherwise true character portrayals in the film.
The cinematography and switching from India to Canada were believable and well done. The streets of India (according to IMDB several scenes were filmed in Sri Lanka) were convincing and even though we only saw him in flashbacks, Ganesh’s father (David Fox) gave a convincing performance as a loving dad caring for his son in a foreign country.
And Reynolds? Well, it was his first film role and he did a good job at carrying it, especially for a young performer. If the film were made today, he would probably be critiqued for his broken Indian accent, but in the context of this one film, it was believable. While it is a typical family film with a telegraphed ending, it should hold the attention of both kids and adults for a family night movie they can all watch together.