‘The Miracle Season’: Volleyball drama performs an attack on tear ducts

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Kelly (Erin Moriarty, left) lacks the confidence of team star Caroline (Danika Yarosh) at the start of “The Miracle Season.” | LD ENTERTAINMENT

“The Miracle Season” is a pleasant surprise, the rare inspirational sports movie that actually earns its tears.

It certainly works hard enough for them.

Sean McNamara’s film is based on a true story, about a girls high-school volleyball team in Iowa whose best player was killed just before the season started, a season in which the team defended its state championship.

Make no mistake, McNamara sets out to make you cry and does his dead-level best to succeed, and the teenagers who see this movie will need rafts and lifejackets to float out of the theater, so heavy will the tears flow.

But there’s such a generosity of spirit at work in the performances and the story that the emotional manipulation and the occasional clichés – OK, more than occasional – aren’t nearly as off-putting as you’d suspect.

Full disclosure: I’m the ideal target for this film. I have three daughters. One plays volleyball in college, one in high school, one in junior high (I coach her). A match that goes to five sets can make me teary-eyed if the circumstances are right. Some of the on-court scenes may not connect the same way with everyone.

Caroline “Line” Found (Danika Yarosh) is the star setter for the state champs. She’s also gregarious, fun-loving and so positive it would drive you crazy if it weren’t so infectious. (Yarosh plays this to the hilt.) She’s best friends with Kelly (Erin Moriarty), a good player who lacks confidence.

Shortly before the season starts, however, Line is killed in a moped accident on the way to visit her terminally ill mother in the hospital. Kelly and the rest of the team are devastated. So, too, of course, is Line’s dad, Ernie (a nicely understated William Hurt), whose wife dies shortly thereafter.

The team doesn’t want to play anymore, but their coach, Kathy Bresnahan (Helen Hunt), convinces them that Line would have wanted them to get on with the season. (She’s probably right.) It’s a rocky start, and at first Kelly isn’t much of a replacement at setter, but … well, you can find out the rest yourself.

This is an idyllic world, almost ridiculously so – the town they live in supports the team, puts up signs, all that. The cornfields stretch to the horizon. Ernie, a surgeon, hosts parties for the team and their friends in his barn (really). Aside from a couple of chaste kisses, there is no mention, not even a hint, of underage drinking, sex or drugs. The rock ’n’ roll is pretty sedate, too, although what would sound like an all-too-obvious choice on the soundtrack proves effective.

Bresnahan is a tough coach, emotionally distant (Hunt’s good at playing that). After the accident she’s as lost as the girls she coaches. She deals with it through coaching, so far as we know – her character isn’t really fleshed out much, other than an early line about her husband running off with another woman.

That’s odd, since the film is based on Bresnahan’s book.

Is the film sappy? Oh yeah. That’s a big part of the point. But the volleyball’s authentic (other than his leads, McNamara cast real players) and exciting, and it’s kind of nice to have an uncomplicated, straightforward narrative – there’s no mystery who we’re rooting for, and not much more about what’s going to happen. “The Miracle Season” isn’t going to make anyone forget “Raging Bull” or “North Dallas Forty,” but it’s a pleasant little movie that’s fun to root for.


LD Entertainment presents a film directed by Sean McNamara and written by David Aaron Cohen and Elissa Matsueda. Rated PG (for some thematic elements). Running time: 99 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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