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A Miracle Season

I understand these real life dramas are going to have a certain amount of manipulation and cliches, but this movie seems to take that to a whole other level. It’s a slightly faith-based re-enactment for the YA set, about an Iowa high school volleyball team. They won the championship the previous year, and it looks like they’re on the path to winning it again.

Danika Yarosh (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back) plays Caroline Found, the star senior player of the team. My wife and I both thought she was so annoying, it made me wonder why director Danika Yarosh didn’t tone that down a bit. It didn’t even feel realistic; and there’s a fine line between school spirit and being annoying. She’s walking around campus, bouncing off the walls, from person to person, with inspirational words for one, a joke for another. She hugs the volleyball coach (Helen Hunt), who clearly isn’t a hugger. She sees her dad on campus and asks if he’s going to get lucky with mom on their date night (that seemed very odd to say, and once we see that her mom is dying in a hospital, even weirder). She makes the entire cafeteria laugh at her stories. She tries to shove two pieces of pizza in her mouth before practice. She slams on the brakes when a hunky new teenage boy is moving in next door, so she can invite him to their party that night. And when she leaves that party, she dies in a scooter accident.

The team forfeits a few games, and you think the season is lost. But her best friend Kelly (Erin Moriarty of Captain Fantastic) takes over her position, Coach Bres rallies the troops, and they slowly start back up again.

Director McNamara bringing Helen Hunt (from their movie Soul Surfer), was a nice choice. She has the no-nonsense look of a coach. It’s just a shame she’s not given enough to do. And from the opening scene with her on the phone with an ex, we wonder what her backstory even is. In fact, nobody is given a backstory. We know nothing about any of these characters. Not the new boyfriend that moved to town. Not Caroline’s father, who we find out later, is also a surgeon. Not any of the other players, and that would surely make us care about the film more.

Hurt shows a lot of vulnerability, and he’s an actor who’s never really impressed me [side note: he and Hunt both have Oscars]. Yet he’s perfect in this role, and you tear up every time he’s on the screen.

The songs that were constantly played were annoying. My wife asked why they do that, and I’m starting to wonder — do teens like those goofy musical cues? It feels like a cheesy music video. It made me yearn to see a documentary about these strong young women, instead of a schlocky, formulaic film.

Another problem the movie has (which isn’t anyone’s fault), is that as much as we all love volleyball, it’s not the best sport for showing drama in the big games. In football, someone could make a big catch or tackle. In baseball, you can hit a homerun, strike a batter out, or make a diving catch. In basketball, a winning free-throw, blocked shot, or 3-pointer as time expires. In volleyball…you’ve got spikes and blocks. Watching a setter make a great play isn’t all that thrilling.

It has some inspirational moments, but not enough for me. It needed to be told in a more cinematic fashion, not a sports movie by numbers version.

2 stars out of 5.