Inspirational sports movies tend to be testosterone-heavy, so the all-girl volleyball movie “The Miracle Season” is a welcome twist on the familiar genre. Based on the true story of Iowa City’s West High School girls’ volleyball team who battled back from tragedy in 2011, “The Miracle Season” is a formulaic but rousing tale of teamwork, girl power and community, and a tearjerker to boot.
Directed by journeyman director Sean McNamara, written by David Aaron Cohen and Elissa Matsueda, “The Miracle Season” introduces us to the state champion Lady Trojans of West, led by their fearless, magnetic leader — the wild, charismatic and sometimes reckless Caroline Found (Danika Yarosh), known affectionately by her nickname, Line. She’s the kind of friend who’s full of life, up for anything and never, ever self-conscious. As portrayed by Yarosh, Line is an individual who teeters on the edge of manic, constantly pushing boundaries and searching for her next high, which we come to understand is her coping mechanism to deal with her dying mother’s battle with cancer.
It’s always a shock when someone so young and full of energy passes away, and Line’s tragic death in a moped accident devastates her father, friends, team and school. Gruff coach Kathy Bresnahan, “Bres” (Helen Hunt), implores Line’s best friend, Kelley (Erin Moriarty), to rally the team. They want to win for Line, but volleyball proves to be an important outlet to channel their grief into action and pay tribute to their lost friend — they might even vie for the title of state champs again, even though it’s the longest of shots.
“The Miracle Season” moves with a brisk energy and pace, pausing only to draw a few tears hear and there. It’s peppered with girl power bangers, training montages and inspirational speeches. But it relies on storytelling that tells rather than shows. We’re told what a special person Line was, but we don’t quite grasp it based on the short amount of time we have with her impulsive character. The character of Kelley can tell us over and over again that Line was “sent from above,” and that the team is in emotional distress, but if we never see and process it, the operatic displays of emotion aren’t grounded in any reality. The ultimate emotional resolution, centered around the mantra to “live like Line,” feels forced and unconvincing.
“The Miracle Season” is pleasantly swift, but in a quest for ruthless efficiency, a few character beats are skipped. It seems as though Hunt’s Coach Bres is lacking a wide swath of expository characterization. We finally come to understand what a quirky, odd woman she is, but that’s never fully established, and we don’t know why she became that way. It’s also strange that she’s able to overcome her fear of public speaking so easily.
Watching young women physically compete with power and grace, cheered on by adoring crowds is an important representational image for young audiences. The true story is indeed remarkable and ideal for this kind of inspirational sports movie treatment. Despite some storytelling mishaps, ultimately “The Miracle Season” fuses emotional catharsis with the triumph of the human spirit on the volleyball court.