There's nothing quite like an inspirational sports story. It's got built-in competition, an underdog with the odds stacked against them, and, usually, a cathartic and emotional victory at the end. If you've seen one of these sorts of movies, you've pretty much seen them all and The Miracle Season really doesn't add anything new to the genre. Having said that, it also doesn't do anything badly, leading to an enjoyable, if likely not particularly memorable, addition to the world of sports cinema.
The West High School Women's Volleyball Team became Iowa State Champions in 2010, but it's a new school year and now the team is back to attempt the rare feat of becoming back to back champions. Coach Kathy Bresnahan, Bres to her players (Helen Hunt) is perhaps a bit distracted having recently gone through a divorce but team captain Caroline "Line" Found (Danika Yarosh) has all the energy the team requires. She's enthusiasm personified and even her best friend Kelly (Erin Moriarty) who is on the team with her, is in awe of her. With Line as leader, another year as champions seems guaranteed, but everything falls apart when Line is killed in a tragic accident, and while the team is obviously shaken, they ultimately decide to use their friend as motivation to try and become the best once again.
While Danika Yarosh's screen time is minimal, she does a solid job setting up the character that will be so important to everybody else. You can tell why she would be everybody's friend, and thus why everybody would feel the loss when she is gone. Once that loss is felt, the film shifts to focus on her father (William Hurt) and her best friend Kelly. Kelly becomes the film's central character, as she takes over as team captain, though, certainly with some trepidation.
While The Miracle Season might sound like the perfect fiction, it's actually based on a true story, and as some news footage that runs during the closing credits shows that even some of the elements that feel the most "Hollywood" while you're watching them are actually based on real events. It's no wonder this story was adapted into a film. And besides, while inspirational sports movies may be a dime a dozen, most of them don't feature women or volleyball, so that's something. While the team of girls isn't always on the same page, The Miracle Season steers clear of pitting them against each other. Ultimately, this is about a team of women coming together and as unfortunate as this is, that's a refreshing change of pace.
The Miracle Season isn't without its issues. While the decision to focus on Kelly makes some sense from a narrative perspective, volleyball is a team sport, and as such there are several other girls who get little to no character development. I'm fairly certain the rest of them had names. I couldn't tell you what they were. Kelly herself goes through a remarkably fast transformation. As the film opens she's not sure she'll be named to the team's starting line-up, but when it comes time to pick a new setter, her abilities are so obvious that one wonders why she didn't get the job when the season began. Maybe there was a practicing montage left on the cutting room floor. Don't worry, there are others.
These problems are minor overall as The Miracle Season is a perfectly fine, if predictable, story. Helen Hunt and William Hurt carry the performances. Erin Moriarty and the rest of the cast of players come together well as a team and have a charm that's as infectious as the pop music soundtrack that pops up whenever the film requires an extra burst of energy. The heartfelt moments you would expect are here but Season earns them. If you're the sort to get a little emotional at the movies, The Miracle Season is likely to push your buttons. It's certainly going to try.
In a day where it seems like literally, everything in reality is depressing, a real-life inspirational story is far from the worst thing one can experience. As a film, The Miracle Season is more mundane than miracle, but it will probably make you smile, and there's nothing wrong with that.