One player does not a team make.
But one player can have a major effect on the moral of a team, and for the 2011 Iowa City West High School volleyball team, that person was Caroline “Line” Found. When I first saw the previews for the The Miracle Season, I couldn’t help but think back to We Are Marshall, another inspirational sports film that saw a team and a community rise up among a major tragedy. The difference is that with Marshall, almost the entire starting lineup of the school’s football team perished in a place crash, so it would seem it would take a lot more to find the strength to rebuild a successful team than it would had only one player died. However, according to director Sean McNamara, Line was a spark plug — someone who lived life with no regrets and no filter; a young girl that had an amazing life ahead of her only to be cut short because of one simple mistake. It doesn’t matter that she was a single person, her presence alone elevated everyone around her, so when an accident took her away from those who looked to her for light, for them that was all it took to slip into darkness.
I have no doubt that Caroline Found (Danika Yarosh) was a sweet, generous, crazy young soul who was a joy to be around, but the way she’s portrayed in the film was a bit much. With a limited amount of screen time to capture our hearts, I kept feeling as if Yarosh was trying a little too hard to portray the real-life athlete that it almost became a little insincere, offering nothing but over-the-top games and a somewhat fake personality to the point that I was afraid I wasn’t going to feel her death in an authentic way. Which is a testament to the actors around her for making me feel her loss even though I never felt all that close to her.
The two most important characters to deliver are Line’s best friend from childhood, Kelly (Erin Moriarty) and her father, Ernie (William Hurt). After Line heads off on her secret moped without a helmet to visit her ailing mother (Jillian Fargey) at the hospital, the cops arrive at Ernie’s door and Hurt’s reaction to the news is devastating. What’s more is how Moriarty portrays Kelly’s grief for her friend, hiding in the bathroom to cry, skipping practice and all but closing herself off to the world. In both cases, you can feel how much they loved this girl, not just because of their pasts together, but because of the spirit and the unconditional love Line embodied.
If it was left up to her own devices, Kelly probably would have stopped playing volleyball (after all, she wasn’t one of the top players) and continue to spiral downward into depression. Thankfully, West High School’s volleyball coach, Kathy Breshahan (Helen Hunt), wouldn’t allow her to do that. Being a very pragmatic woman, Kathy knew the only way to bring Line’s teammates back to full strength was to get them back on the court and on with their lives. And the only way to do that was to push Kelly to show them that it was okay to move forward and find a way to honor their friend by showing up. Because if there was one thing Line did well, it was show up — for her teammates, for her parents and for her friends. The only way to heal was to channel that energy and that spirit and put themselves out there.
This of course is harder than it looks, but the girls do a good job of portraying a natural progression through the grief over their friend that at first keep them from even stepping foot on the court to leading their team to the Iowa state championships for the second year in a row. They did that by using Line’s memory to overcome the odds; after losing the first half of the season, they stepped up to win fifteen straight games when they needed fifteen wins to qualify for state. And you have to believe Line was with them the while time; perhaps not physically, but mentally helping her girls became the people they were meant to be (and to always Live Like Line).
There is a lot to like about The Miracle Season, but it’s far from a perfect film. The film tends to borrow from a lot of other sports films without giving anything the same purpose. A lot of the incidents that lead the girls to begin winning again aren’t given a enough spice; some of the girls on the team are given important moments, but without enough time for those moments to shine the way they should; and Burkely Duffield as Kelly’s boyfriend isn’t given anything to do but stand around and look pretty. In fact, this relationship, which may not have happened had it not been for Line’s brazen personality, is treated as an afterthought, seemingly shoehorned in because you need some sort of love story in a movie like this, right?
Regardless, this is ultimately Kelly’s story. As Line’s best friend and fellow teammate, she was the key to not only getting her team back on the court and finding their strength, but helping Line’s father heal from the devastating one-two punch of losing his baby girl and his wife in the matter of a few weeks. McNamara does a good job of telling her story and showing her growth from second banana to force to be reckoned with as she evolves from a young girl without much confidence to the captain of her team. She turned what could have been a massive tragedy into a way to channel her weaknesses into strengths and help a community heal. It wasn’t the loss of Line that pushed the team to find victory among tragedy, it was the indelible mark she left on all of their hearts that first tore them down, only to build them back up even stronger than before. And that’s the true miracle.
My Grade: B+
A Quiet Place can only be described as a quiet movie. John Krasinski proves that he can play with the big boys when it comes to intelligent direction, but I can’t help but wonder how much more eerie the movie could have been had the entire thing played without a score… or with no sound at all. A-
Though it takes some time to kick into gear, Chappaquiddick is a hard, yet tender examination of the 1969 incident in which then Senator Ted Kennedy (Jason Clarke) killed a young woman (Kate Mara) in a car accident, then did what he could to tell the truth while at the same time playing politics (aka, lying) to fight for his political future. A-
Next week, new movies include Blumhouse’s Truth Or Dare, Rampage and Borg vs. McEnroe. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.