By Kim Hughes
It’s corny and breaks no new ground in the underdog sports team milieu already exceptionally well-covered by McFarland, USA, Breaking Away, Hoosiers et al. But the Miracle Season is nevertheless a winning YA drama worth recommending. It tells its true story with lots of heart, committed performances, and dynamite footage of girls’ volleyball in action. And it will make all but the stony-hearted blubber at least once. (The soft-hearted are advised to bring a Kleenex Pocket Pack).
When vivacious teenage volleyball star Caroline “Line” Found (Danika Yarosh) dies accidentally, leaving a yawning hole in her close-knit Iowa town, it’s up to tough-love coach Kathy Bresnahan (Helen Hunt, channelling Betty Buckley's irritable Miss Collins from Carrie) to push Caroline’s dispirited team forward towards the state championship as a means of healing. Caroline’s despondent best friend and teammate Kelly (Erin Moriarty) must lead the way, with the endorsement of Caroline’s stoic dad Ernie (William Hurt).
And that’s the Miracle Season in a nutshell. The movie begins with the establishing story of Caroline’s exceptional spirit (all the better to amp up the sadness when the 17-year-old is tragically cut down), then the crushing aftermath where her team can’t even bring themselves to practice. The inevitable bounce-back follows (because, of course, Caroline would have wanted it that way), and, since this is based on actual events, footage of the real people plays as the credits roll. Yeah, I know. But I liked it anyway.
Director Sean McNamara has traversed tragedy-begets-triumph territory before in teen surfer movie Soul Surfer. His direction of multiple white-knuckle volleyball matches is genuinely thrilling. And he conveys the essential role of high school sports in Middle American communities in a persuasive way, even if the concept is odd to foreign viewers.
McNamara also gets what he paid for from his cast. Hunt — who played the Mom to plucky Bethany Hamilton in Soul Surfer — here marshals the emotionally awkward but kind-hearted coach with believable rigor. Hurt too, is unfailingly good. Also, the film’s go-girl messaging is very timely.
Smart money says reviewers are going to summarily dismiss the Miracle Season as saccharine, seen-it-all-before filmmaking, an estrogenic We Are Marshall. They’re right, but if you’ve got a teen in your life, go see it anyway. A good cry about nice people doing positive things never hurt anybody. It might even make your day.
The Miracle Season. Directed by Sean McNamara. Starring Helen Hunt, William Hurt, Erin Moriarty and Danika Yarosh. Opens wide April 6.