[Screen It]


(2018) (Erin Moriarty, Helen Hunt) (PG)

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Drama: The stars and coach of a high school girls volleyball team must contend with the tragic death of their team captain as they try to repeat as state champions.
It's 2011 and Iowa City's West High Trojans girls volleyball team is hoping they'll get a shot at repeating as state champions, what with their coach, Kathy Bresnahan (HELEN HUNT), and star player, captain and all-important setter, Caroline 'Line' Found (DANIKA YAROSH), returning.

When not playfully wondering when her best friend, Kelley Fliehler (ERIN MORIARTY), might show some interest in a boy, Alex (BURKELY DUFFIELD), who's new to the neighborhood, she's trying to boost the spirits of her parents, surgeon Ernie (WILLIAM HURT) and hospitalized Ellyn (JILLIAN FARGEY), who are contending with the latter's terminal cancer diagnosis.

And then tragedy strikes when Caroline is killed while riding a moped home from a party, followed just days later by her mother's death. That not only devastates Ernie, but also Kathy, her team, and the entire community.

From that point on, Kathy tries to rally her team to come together and win for their late star, with much of the pressure falling on Kelley to take over her best friend's spot and leadership role on the team.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
I've always admired people, teams or institutions that can put together back-to-back or even greater multiple years of being successful. That's especially true in today's world and marketplace where the stars of such endeavors usually eschew staying in just one place and instead move around for better opportunities and increased pay.

Of course, when one thinks of victories, sports usually come to mind. And notwithstanding such nomadic tendencies, pro teams sometimes manage to make long runs of success, while college ones can do the same through recruiting athletes who want to get on the "success train."

High schools, on the other hand, are usually limited to whatever students live in the geographic region from which their enrollment is pulled, and thus consecutive winning seasons are harder to pull off unless luck falls a certain way and talented freshmen give them four good years together.

Sometimes, however, bad luck and tragedy interrupt such plans and that was certainly the case with Iowa City's West High Trojans girls volleyball team. Having won the 2010 state championship, they seemed poised to repeat the following year. But then 17-year-old star player, team captain and all-important setter Caroline "Line" Found died in a moped accident at the beginning of the new season, followed a few days later by her terminally ill mother.

That true-life event and her coach, team and community's efforts to regain their footing and win again in her honor play out in "The Miracle Season." Part standard inspirational sports drama, part emotionally manipulative tear-jerker, this offering from writers Elissa Matsueda and David Aaron Cohen and director Sean McNamara works better in the latter than the former.

But it does so just well enough and early on that you end up with enough of a vested interest to root for these girls, their coach, and the grieving father to come out on the other side of depression and grief, even if you know next to nothing about any of them.

The film begins by showing a quick montage -- one of many found in the 100-some minutes that unfold -- of two best friends who eventually grow up to be high school juniors Caroline (Danika Yarosh) and Kelley (Erin Moriarty). Despite her mother (Jillian Fargey) being terminally ill, Caroline -- for the most part -- is upbeat and tries to raise the spirits of her mom and surgeon dad (William Hurt).

That's followed by the aforementioned tragedy that occurs off-camera, but drops a heavy emotional bomb not only on the characters in the film, but also anyone who happens to be watching it. I'm not always the easiest person to get to cry in any movie, and it's a testament to all involved that they get the waterworks, throat lumps and more working overtime here.

That's especially true since we haven't been allotted the usual time to get to know these characters, although that never really happens after the pivotal event either. Most everything is played on a surface level with little to no character depth beyond the default of how most anyone would react to such tragic losses.

Thus, once the coach (Helen Hunt, playing most everything emotionally close to the vest) gets the girls back on track, albeit with a rocky start, and the story goes into standard sports movie formula, it loses some of its power.

With them needing to run the table of their remaining games, that doesn't allow McNamara enough time to make any of those matches memorable, and thus we get just brief plays and lengthier montages to convey the winning streak (as accompanied by the game announcers' on-the-nose dialogue as infused with their play-by-play statements).

But when all of that ties back in with the loss that still looms over everyone and everything, the film regains its emotional footing and ability to connect with the viewer. So, we're left with something of a mixed bag as the matches feel like balls that land in or barely make it over the net, while the tearjerker moments are spiked down with such power that you have no defense against them. Accordingly, "The Miracle Season" ends up being winning enough to earn a slight recommendation and a score of 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 1, 2018 / Posted April 6, 2018

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