Saturday 12 May 2018

Movie Review: The Miracle Season (2018)

A sports drama based on a true story, The Miracle Season is overloaded with honest intentions and weighed down with almost unbearable predictability.

In Iowa City, the West High School girls' volleyball team are the defending state champions, coached by the dour but respected Kathy "Bres" Bresnahan (Helen Hunt). The energetic, vivacious  and well-loved Caroline "Line" Found (Danika Yarosh) is their spark plug, setter and captain. Kelley Fliehler (Erin Moriarty) is Line's best friend and an average member of the team.

Line remains upbeat despite a season-opening loss to their rivals from City High, but tragedy strikes and Line is killed in a moped accident. Line's father Dr. Ernie Found (William Hurt) suffers a double blow when his wife Ellyn also dies after a long illness. The school community is devastated and the volleyball team members cannot even bring themselves to practice. Bres has to find a way to rally the team, and Kelley will need to find inner strength to step out from the shadow of her departed friend.

There is no doubt that the story of a team's triumph emerging from the tragedy of their star's death is inspirational. And The Miracle Season does many things right, with director Sean McNamara conjuring up plenty of poignant and tear-inducing moments. The opening 20 minutes in particular effectively establish Caroline's infectious personality, a petite girl bursting with an irresistible love for life and capable of filling the entire school building and then some with her confident and playful attitude.

And the film's positive, wholesome and healthy message for girls, almost all of whom behave impeccably towards each other throughout, is to be lauded.

All of which makes most of the rest of the film an unfortunate disappointment. With the outcome confirmed in the title, once Line leaves the movie the predictable decline and rebirth of the volleyball team's fortunes unfolds with utmost predictability. To overcome the strictly linear narrative The Miracle Season sorely needed more character depth to latch onto, but it is Line's spirit that remains the one dominant presence. Coach Bres, new captain Kelley and Line' father Dr. Ernie are never more than sketched in as people, while Kelley's teammates are particularly shortchanged, remaining largely interchangeable and never emerging from the background.

The on-court volleyball action is decent but also repetitive, occupying screen time that may have been better invested in characters. The Miracle Season carries worthwhile messages of self-belief, perseverance in the face of devastating doubt, and a community coming together to rise above, but as a cinematic experience, it lacks the smash.

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