There is a genre of film, often based on true stories, that is characterized by its coupling of heart-wrenching tragedies with inspirational tales of hope and redemption. The Miracle Season fits within this formulaic mold, but as far as tragedy-turned-triumph movies go, the film is a positive representation of cinema of its kind. Directed by Sean McNamara—who also worked on Soul Surfer (a film of a similar genre)—the movie fulfills expectations of eliciting tears, and has an eventual ending of renewed appreciation for life.
In the beginning of the film, Caroline “Line” Found (Danika Yarosh), star captain of the reigning volleyball state champions, is the main character’s energetic best friend. What immediately jumps out is how good-natured Line’s character is. She’s funny, optimistic, and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Caroline is the kind of leader that encourages her teammates when they make a mistake, rather than demanding they do better next time, as she believes they will regardless. She’s bold and shines with an inner light that draws people to her, even audiences in the theater. She’s not perfect and the movie never pretends that’s the case, but she’s someone others want to be around. Although at times rebellious, she’s the popular girl every high school has who seems likely to win at life.
The only blemish on Caroline’s otherwise picture-perfect life is her mother’s declining health. Her mother is losing a battle against cancer, and Line visits her at the hospital every chance she gets, choosing to remain positive as long as she can.
The course of the film changes dramatically when Caroline dies in a moped accident—which the audience knows is coming but still remains shocking and deeply sad. Her mother dies only a few days after. From there on out the movie becomes about the grief her father, best friend, coach, and teammates experience and battle to overcome. They look for meaning, trying to rediscover the will to keep living and playing volleyball without her.
The protagonist from the start but even more so after Line’s death is her best friend Kelley Fliehler (Erin Moriarty). The latter half of the film finds Kelley struggling to understand who she is without her other half. She reluctantly takes over Line’s position as setter on the volleyball team and tries to motivate her teammates to reignite their passion for the sport, to “win for Line.”
Line’s father (William Hurt) and her coach (Helen Hunt) both have secondary storylines as trying and sometimes failing to cope. One has lost his world and the other has lost the player she relied on to steer the team. Her father struggles to keep going to the school’s games, trying to be there for Kelley and the other girls he’s known since they were kids. The coach on the other hand, can’t stay idle and projects her grief onto her players.
What redeems the movie from its predictability is its depiction of the transparency behind the sentiment of grief. That specific element is not cliché or overdone. Each character has a different way of processing, but they are portrayed skillfully by the actors in performances that aren’t gimmicky.
The film captures the spirit of the volleyball team vying for a comeback after suffering a loss, but nothing about the cinematography is particularly notable. The soundtracks are heavily influenced by billboard hits, the shots are conventional, and the casting isn’t bad but isn’t especially remarkable.
The Miracle Season is in most ways average. The movie is exactly what is expected, but it’s a good example of its type—the exceptionally original has its appeal, but The Miracle Season succeeds due to the emotion it stirs in the audience. Watching the trailer has all the information you need about the story, but it’s portrayal of grief is profound. While not headed to award shows, it may be exactly what some want on a night in for a cry and catharsis.