THE MIRACLE SEASON ½
2018, PG, 101 mins.
Danika Yarosh as Caroline 'Line' Found / Erin Moriarty as Kelly / William Hurt as Ernie Found / Helen Hunt as Kathy Bresnahan / Nesta Cooper as Lizzie Ackerman
Directed by Sean McNamara / Written by Elissa Matsueda and David Aaron Cohen
There's a part of me that feels awfully bad reviewing and being critical of a film like THE MIRACLE SEASON, seeing as it has awfully noble minded intentions and is a fact based sports drama that's steeped in personal tragedy.
The film takes
its true story narrative from the unbelievable winning streak of the Iowa
City West High School girl's volleyball team - the West High Trojans.
Back in 2011 they persevered after the death of their star player to go on
an win their second state championship in a row.
Despite unbelievable and Herculean odds - and all while grieving
over the loss of their captain - this team channeled there personal loss into
an inspirational rallying cry to win in honor of her memory.
THE MIRACLE SEASON is a really hard film to fault on a level of
its powerful and universal themes.
I only wished,
though, that this sports film didn't cross off so many obligatory formulas
and clichés on the genre list while relaying its worthwhile and genuinely
uplifting story. Although THE
MIRACLE SEASON does a reasonably good job of capturing the emotional
devastation of this team's loss - not to mention what it took for this
team to overcome it and ultimately win
- the paint-by-numbers scripting here does this story no favors.
Stale and overused sports drama conventions sometimes rule the day
here and often override some of the film's more gut wrenching moments,
which is further done a disservice by how little character development
there is on display and by how sanitized the proceedings feel.
Again, the wholesomeness of THE MIRACLE SEASON is charming to a
degree and the underlining spiritual journey of this grief stricken team
absolutely deserves big screen treatment, but not at the expense of being
so maudlin in its overall game plan.
At one point it
seemed that the West High Trojans were indeed an unstoppable volleyball
force to be reckoned with, thanks largely to their 17-year-old leader,
high school senior Caroline "Line" Found (played with infectious
vitality of spirit by Danika Yarosh), who seems ready to rally her teammates for
just about any challenge to come, both on and off the court.
Her bestie in Kelly (Erin Moriarty) does not posses her level of
athletic skill, but her enthusiasm for the sport is as palpable as
Caroline's, and the two seem like an inseparable pair in every facet of
life. Erin and everyone else
at the high school have to deal with the horror of losing her after a
terrible accident while traveling unprotected on a Moped.
Not only does this news emotionally cripple Erin, but Caroline's
parents are obviously hit the hardest, especially the father (William
Hurt), who has to deal with a terminally ill wife on top of losing his
Hope seems all
but lost for the volleyball team, seeing as Caroline was both an adored
student and a fiery competitor, leaving her unique brand of unwavering
optimism a hard blend to copy. No one on this team - let alone most in the school as a whole
- thinks this team will have any chance of a state championship again, let
alone playing any more games during the season.
The team's coach, Kathy Bresnahan (nicely underplayed by Helen
Hunt), thinks that the best therapy to get over Caroline's death - and the
best manner to honor her legacy and memory - is for the girls to pull up
their socks, wipe away their collective tears, and do whatever it takes to
win the necessary 15 games in a row required (after forfeiting many games
due to not showing up) to make it the playoffs and attain championship gold.
Predictably, none on the team have any drive whatsoever to go on,
especially since all of them are still processing their shared grief.
Erin, on the other hand, is given the unlikely promotion to team
captain and soon begins to bolster up enough self-confidence and
commitment to motivate her teary-eyed teammates for the difficult task to
grounded performances by the ensemble cast works relative overtime to
help elevate THE MIRACLE SEASON above its many deficiencies.
Erin Moriarty gives a graceful and sincere performance showing her
character's evolution from being a near sports washout and into a bona
fide leader and grittily focused competitor.
Helen Hunt also gives an equally soulful performance in her
somewhat underwritten role of the coach that has to balance being a battle
hardened taskmaster that utilizes tough love tactics alongside being a
sensitive mentor figure to these damaged girls.
And the great William Hurt has this innate and thanklessly ability
to bring a soft spoken gravitas to just about any film he occupies.
A lesser actor would have utterly phoned it in as this
quiet spoken, but appealingly crusty mannered father/widow, but Hurt dials
down his performance to the point that he feels like an authentically drawn
character beleaguered by loss on multiple sides.
It's one of those cases where a veteran presence of a virtuoso
actor can perform miracles with a character that's not particularly
compelling on the page.
The problem I had
with THE MIRACLE SEASON is not that it wasn't dramatically pure enough
(you truly do feel this entire community's sorrow after loss),
but rather with how squeaky clean and conflict free the character dynamics
and storytelling are here. The
teammates themselves seem almost impossibly big hearted and cooperative
with one another during their winning streak odyssey and very little
attempt is made here at delving deeper into their fragile psychological
mindsets. Many of the girls
that seem to occupy this team also seem so achingly sweet mannered and
congenial that you're kind of left believing that the real life Trojans
didn't have such a crisis free level of sportsmanship and
shared focus. And for as good
as Hunt is in her dime-a-dozen role of the poker faced high school coach
with the hidden heart of gold, there's actually very little depth to her
character, nor is she given much back story embellishment. More often than not, the coach gives melodramatic
speeches and pep talks when not pointing at her players and screaming
"YES!" when they achieve excellence on the court...and very
little else. She's an oddly
vague abstraction here in the film.
All we are left
with are the volleyball matches themselves, which are choreographed with
limitless gusto by director Sean McNamara, albeit with perhaps too many
overused stylistic conceits and definitely too many pop tunes punctuating
the soundtrack to underscore key scenes (the matches
feel like music video montages and not grueling physical contests of grit
and determination by the respective teams).
There are other things that don't work well, like an on-again, off-again
voiceover narration track featuring Erin that appears and disappears at
will, and a one-note boyfriend character for her
that adds virtually nothing to the plot.
THE MIRACLE SEASON ends with archival footage that accompanies the
end credits that shows just how much this school and the citizens around
it bolstered up and supported this team.
It also made me feel that this remarkable tale of real athletic
domination and overcoming horrendous roadblocks would have been best
served in a documentary. THE
MIRACLE SEASON serves up one whopper of a moving story to tell, but it
misses the mark and strays the ball out of bounds when it comes to