Movie Review: ‘The Miracle Season’: Is Tear-Jerking or Teensploitation the Important Issue?
Why do people sneer at “tear-jerkers”? “It tried to make me cry!” You wanted to smile through a tragedy? It’s like saying “NASCAR makes me watch cars go left for three hours!” Oh—you meant cheap tricks that jerk tears down your face? Like schmaltzy music? Like the worst of Neil Diamond? Yeah, bad taste is an abomination.
Here’s a true story about Iowa’s 2011 West High Trojans girls’ volleyball team, whose captain Caroline Found (Danika Yarosh) was killed in a car crash. These defending state champs nevertheless pull it together and make it back to state.
Are tears jerked here? Even if they were, does it matter? If anything could be said to be objectionable about a wholesome, well-intended Christian movie, it’s that it might stir other emotions by way of unintentional female teen exploitation. Does that automatically render the concept of a Christian film snicker-worthy? Let’s see.
Talk about your blond, Iowan girls. It’s an American cliché the movie wallows in. But then, is not a team of beautiful girls like a bouquet of fresh flowers? Is that not an inherently lovely thing that everyone wants to look at? Is the fact that this Christian movie version looks like a swimsuit model lineup, not the real manipulative thing happening here?
- Kelley Fliehler (Erin Moriarty, L) with her teammates, in “The Miracle Season.” (Cate Cameron/LD Entertainment/Mirror)
The story: School’s in session! Small-town sunsets, nubile corn-fedness in scant uniforms, hopping in and out of convertibles, postering volleyball meet info, beaming, giggling, high-fiving, singing along to the radio, and reveling in that most magical time of life: being young, pretty, popular, and nice.
Team captain Caroline, known as “Line,” is beyond effusive. She has her share of hardship, though; her mother Ellyn (Jillian Fargey) is dying, and her doctor dad Ernie (William Hurt) can’t make it stop.
Ernie is smote with a landslide of tragedy. Post-team-party, Caroline hops on her scooter, sans helmet, and you know how that ends. Mom dies soon after. Who’s not gonna cry? That’s a Dale Earnhardt hitting the wall at 160 mph stock-car crash in anybody’s life.
- Ernie Found (L) and William Hurt on the set of “The Miracle Season.” (Cate Cameron/LD Entertainment/Mirror)
Surviving the Hardship of Hardships
Caroline’s death naturally flattens team and town. Can they manage to rally enough to climb out of a massive deficit, go undefeated for 15 games straight, and qualify for state?
Introverted coach Kathy “Brez” Bresnahan (Helen Hunt) is called on to transcend her lack of people skills, and mentor these grieving, despondent teens. She recruits help in part by challenging Line’s bestie, Kelley (Erin Moriarty), to step up to captain. But will coach succeed by using relentless training as the sole coping mechanism for the team?
- Erin Moriarty (L) and Helen Hunt in “The Miracle Season.” (Cate Cameron/LD Entertainment/Mirror)
For Ernie, the spiritual crisis resulting from this vicious double whammy of losing both wife and daughter is something we all would want to learn from. Unfortunately, both Ernie’s and Kathy’s storylines are too thin, which is no fault of A-listers Hurt and Hunt.
Is Volleyball Cool?
Is volleyball compelling sports-watching? The Olympics have marketed it cynically by putting tanned, athletic women in bikinis on the beach. But the team sport? James Brown apparently prophesied women’s 2011 volleyball in 1971, when he sang “Hot Pants.” Yeah, hot pants in women’s sports will rivet the male viewership’s attention alright. It’s led to a whole genre of YouTube videos that ogle female track and field athletes. Let me check right now if this includes women’s team volleyball … Yup, it does.
- The West High Trojans girls’ volleyball team huddle up in “The Miracle Season.” (Cate Cameron/LD Entertainment/Mirror)
Okay, but what about the actual sport? It’s not MMA or football, but director Sean McNamara decently jazzes up girls’ volleyball with slo-mo shots, cannon-shot sound effects on serves, rifle-cracking spikes, and thundering blocked shots. Ridiculous but fun.
Why are Christian movies so derided in America? They’re certainly not laughable to Christians all across the nation. It’s not cool to like Christian films, maybe? Because it’s all about positivity, counting blessings, appreciation of earthly life, raising of ethical standards, and of course, faith?
- Burkely Duffield as Alex and Erin Moriarty as Kelley Fliehler in “The Miracle Season.” (Cate Cameron/LD Entertainment/Mirror)
The problem with films that have a spiritual agenda is the mixing of earnest content with kitsch. If even a little bit of bad taste gets mixed with a slightly-too-awesomely-wholesome message, it rankles. I could’ve definitely done without the two (two? Two!) singalong renditions of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
Would a documentary treatment have served up some deeper learning? This candy-coated version will make you cry for sure, but it’s not simple catharsis that’s important here. We want answers about how individuals deal with that much personal tragedy.
Ultimately, the irony of trying to find wholesome movie fare and then discovering that girls sports—in a Christian film—are experiencing the uniform version of “The Incredible Shrinking Man” is something that makes you go, “Hmmm…”
‘The Miracle Season’
Director: Sean McNamara
Starring: William Hurt, Helen Hunt, Danika Yarosh, Erin Moriarty
Running Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Release Date: April 6
Rated 3 stars out of 5