Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 41 min.
Our content ratings (0-5): Violence 1; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the Lord.
Just about everybody roots for an underdog, which is probably why so many sports films center on a coach, player or team that struggles against seemingly overwhelming odds. We’ve seen this theme in almost every sports film—football, baseball, soccer, swimming, boxing, track, tennis, and golf. And now, women’s high school volleyball.
Director Sean McNamara’s film, set in 2011, is the true story of how the West High Trojans of Iowa City rose out of the pit of despair to win the 15 games in a row necessary to win the state championship. Sparked by center player Caroline Found (Danika Yarosh), whom they called “Line,” they had won the year before, but when she died suddenly in a moped crash, they fell apart as a team. Some failed to show up at practice, so despite the efforts of their also despondent coach Kathy Besnahan (Helen Hunt), they lost their next few games.
Thanks to the efforts of “Line’s” best friend Kelly (Erin Moriarty) and her grieving father Ernie Found (William Hurt), the team got its act together. By this time their uphill battle seemed impossible to many—by this time they could not afford to lose a single game if they were to remain champions.
The sub-story of Line’s mother Ellyn (Jillian Fargey) is a heart-tugger that gets lost amidst the excitement of the team’s revitalization. We see Line’s celebrated spunkiness when she visits her terminally ill mother in the hospital before her own death and refuses to agree that her mother will not be present to see the team play all the way through to the championship game. Thus, unseen by us, Ernie becomes a widower dealing with a double-dose of grief. When he emerges from his bubble of sorrow to reappear in the stands as one of the team’s strongest cheerleaders and a counselor to Kelly, we come to admire him even more.
His role in reviving Kelly’s spirit is vital because not only is she grieving over the loss of a friend she loved as sister, but also over her guilt that she was complicit in her death. Line had stopped by shortly before the accident to show her the moped she had somehow obtained. Kelly confesses to Ernie that she had not informed anyone of Line’s acquisition, nor even counseled her bare-headed friend to put on a helmet. Ernie, of course, comforts her and reassures her that she is not to blame for the loss.
Thus, like all good sports films, The Miracle Season¸ is more than about a sport, but an exploration of the human relationships of the characters. Headed by the two veteran stars, the ensemble cast is excellent. Though her screen time is limited, Danika Yarosh easily convinces us that Line was indeed the memorable player and sparkling personality who empowered her team to win its first championship. And Erin Moriarty is equally good in displaying a grieving teenager wracked by guilt, the latter due also to her assuming her best friend’s leadership of the team. Yes, I labeled it a “formula film,” but it is a formula that works—I dare you try to be dry-eyed at the end of this film, one I recommend especially for youth groups to see and discuss.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the May issue of Visual Parables.