There’s a very specific target demographic in mind with director Sean McNamara’s The Miracle Season, a semi-faith-based, inspired-by-true-events underdog story about competitive girls’ volleyball. However, even they are sure to walk away from the theater unsatisfied with a movie that noticeably lacks the only real ingredient these affirmational Young Adult docudramas need to be successful: the slightest hint of sincerity. Honestly, viewers would be better off skimming the Wikipedia entry for this heartwarming true-life tale than sitting through this overwrought, clichéd depiction that values dog reaction shots over anything resembling genuine human emotion.
After Caroline “Line” Found (Danika Yarosh), the bubbly, beloved volleyball star, falls victim to a fatal automobile accident, her teammates decide to channel all of their anguished bereavement into winning the state championship in the memory of their departed friend. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Line’s bestie, Kelly (Erin Moriarty), must overcome her apprehension and find the confidence to lead a gang who’ve just lost their shining idol, along with the aid of her no-nonsense coach (Helen Hunt, truly earning her paycheck) and the father of the deceased (William “cry on demand” Hurt).
The Miracle Season lays the melodrama on so thick that you could spread it on a biscuit. It’s nearly impossible to find sympathetic footing with a movie that seems to have a Hallmark Channel approach to realism. Between the gag-inducing dialogue (“I may be the surgeon, but you’re the healer out there”), the over reliance on gaudy slow motion, the cringeworthy scenery chewing, and the all-but-forgotten evangelical Christian subplot painfully shoehorned into the final act, it’s nearly impossible for the viewer to catch a breath between failed emotional gut punches. You can see the manipulative gears turning every step of the way, as you are prodded relentlessly by filmmakers who have apparently never experienced a period of grieving.
It’s actually pretty shocking that a studio executive thought that this cheap-looking, narratively empty movie warranted a theatrical release. Nearly every frame is reminiscent of what you would expect to find buried deep in the cable listings on a Tuesday afternoon or fodder for the drug store bargain DVD bin. Other than Academy Award winners Helen Hunt and William Hurt (trying desperately to squeeze blood out of this superficial stone), the cast is filled with virtually unknown performers, and their ham-fisted delivery falls perfectly in line with the cloying, saccharine atmosphere the movies seems hellbent on maintaining. By the most generous account, this should have been an obscure VOD release. It is spectacularly noncinematic.
The only emotional resonance comes with the closing credits, as photos and archival footage of the real-life Line Found are presented and we are reminded of the tragedy that should have permeated Sean McNamara’s cheesy narrative. The effervescent spark that was tragically extinguished at only seventeen years of age makes for a truly heart-rending story, but none of the creative team seems to have the wherewithal to do it justice. Tying the film to its basis in reality is a nice touch, but it does little more than make an argument for a thoughtful documentary on the subject, rather than a schlocky, cornball made-for-tv rendition.
Even if (read: when) The Miracle Season fails to gain traction at the box office, it will surely make back every penny of its budget through product placement alone. This is the brand of movie in which every bottle, every food container, every t-shirt is perfectly placed so that its label is in focus as it faces the camera. It’s difficult to fully judge this story purely within the parameters of cinema, when it is essentially a 99-minute ad for Stouffer’s lasagna, Bud Lite Lime, and Adidas.
The Miracle Season is a special flavor of cheese, one that rarely opens onto 1,700 screens. Rather than dealing with the emotional gravity of the devastating loss that serves as its catalyst, it bends over backwards to create nonexistent tension around the apparently high stakes world of high school volleyball. It’s parading around as a tale of mourning, but it relegates the topic of death to the sidelines. Make no bones about it, this is a sports movie, and an incompetent one at that. This is what would happen if someone were to vacuum out all of the jolly humor and nostalgic whimsy out of The Mighty Ducks. Perhaps we shouldn’t have put this supposedly inspiring story in the hands of the man responsible for Bratz: The Movie and the direct-to-video Baby Geniuses sequels. This is a glowing example of everything wrong with formulaic sports flicks.