The Miracle Season

 

            “Based on a true story.”  And, they show footage of the “real” people at the end.  So you know exactly where this is headed before it even begins.  It's just a matter of experiencing how they get there.

             The story is told from the point of view of Kelly (Erin Moriarty), a high school senior whose best friend, Caroline (Danika Yarosh), or “Line,” for short, is not only the unquestioned leader of their (Iowa) State Champion volleyball team, but is also a veritable energizer bunny; a “live wire” kind of person who just emantes so much energy and charisma that you just can't help but be charmed by her.

            But all is not rosy in Caroline's life.  Her Mom is deathly ill, but Caroline, in typical fashion, vows on her hospital bed that she's going to live to watch her daughter graduate, and dance at her daughter's wedding.  Well, her boundless optimism has always been cherished by everyone around her, including her volleyball team, who voted her the captain.  They all recognized the way she led by example.  Always the first to arrive at the morning workouts.  Never hanging her head or quitting.  “No crying on the volleyball court.”  One who truly brought out the best in those around her.

            Of course, we all know what's going to happen.  She's going to die in a tragic accident.  Which leaves everyone else completely bereft.  Even Coach Bresnahan (Helen Hunt).  Here it is, the beginning of the season when they defend their State title, and the team just can't get motivated, even to come to practice.  Finally, Coach has to approach Kelly, “Line”'s best friend, and give her the pep talk about needing to take the reins of the team's leadership, because “Line” would not have wanted them all to quit.  So Kelly decides to return to practice, and encourages the rest of the team to do so, but still, they're de-energized without their leader, who was also the primary “setter,” the one who set up the shots for everyone else.

            Herein lies a big flaw for a film that goes right for the Kleenex.  The strategy of the volleyball game is hinted at, but not developed.  It would have been much more engaging to follow the team's lineup adjustments, rather than indulging in a lot of stop-action moments of girls hitting volleyballs.  The rest of the team members aren't introduced well enough for us to care about them, or even distinguish very well between them.  A lot of time and footage is spent on Caroline's Dad, Ernie (William Hurt), and his grieving over losing both his wife and his daughter in such close proximity, but obviously, he's not even a member of the team.  Coach Bresnahan seems to have very good intuition about where to locate the serves, and will flash signs to the server, but the viewer isn't really “schooled” in those dynamics, either.  Coach is supposed to be a hard-nosed character who's not good at speeches, but despite her considerable screen time, her character doesn't seem to have an emotional center, and we don't really connect with her, either.  Another opportunty is missed when one of Ernie's friends mentions religion, and Ernie replies that he's mad at God right now, because God hasn't been there for him lately.  Here was another opportunity to explore some dynamics of true, in-depth grieving, but instead we get the hollow platitude of Ernie sitting in an empty church with the same friend and clapsing hands in emotional solidarity.

            Despite the many missed opportunities, there's still some considerable emotional energy exhibited here, which invites the viewers to share in all the teary moments, including the hesitant kiss from Kelly's new boyfriend, demonstrating that there is life after a hard time of grieving.  It's just not easy to get there.

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association