Plot: After a state championship triumph, the volleyball players of West High are back in school and poised for another victorious run. Squad captain Caroline (Danika Yarosh) is as jubilant as ever, rallying her teammates already, despite her mother’s battle with terminal cancer. Despite her inspirational presence and soaring confidence, the team loses the first game of the season, but Caroline is certain things will turn around and another championship is inevitable. But after a party one night, she would take an ill fated ride to the hospital and lose her life in the process. In the wake of her death, the entire community grieves and struggles to make sense of losing such a lively, bright presence in the world. The team is unable to practice, let alone play, which leads to a string of forfeiture losses. But Caroline’s best friend Kelly (Erin Moriarty) realizes that they can pay tribute to their fallen captain by taking the court in her honor, so the team returns after some emotional practices. The girls loses that first game back, but their coach sees a path to the state tournament and a chance to honor Caroline, but it will take a flawless run to make it all happen.
Entertainment Value: The Miracle Season has a premise we’ve seen before, as a sports team tries to overcome incredible odds to triumph, but this is one of the times where the story happens to be true. And based on the real life footage shown during the credits, the attention to detail and accuracy here is impressive, even the finale plays out like the actual events, down to the letter. The movie is a teen melodrama with a lot of emotional beats, but it is also a fun, inspiring, and infectious experience. I also appreciated that the movie doesn’t minimize the emotional toll of Caroline’s death, it is ever present and the impact she had on those around her is always evident here. Some films would use that as a start, then drift to other elements, but the loss and how Caroline’s loved ones cope is the core of The Miracle Season. But the movie will also appeal to those who love an underdog sports narrative and while the premise is familiar, I think it is well told and executed. The volleyball sequences are kinetic and fun to watch, bolstered by some big, fun songs on the soundtrack. Obviously, The Miracle Season leans on the melodrama and emotional elements, which some will see as heavy handed or forced at times, but I think the movie knows its audience and accomplishes what it sets out to do.
As the movie is driven by how Caroline inspired those around her, that role had to be an imposing one to take on, but Danika Yarosh nails it. She is a whirlwind of positive energy and encouragement, with a bursting at the seams love of life that spreads to anyone even close to her. I am sure some will think her performance is wild and over the top, but to me it cements Caroline as this force of nature and that lines up with how her loved ones felt about her. Erin Moriarty plays her best friend and shows immense vulnerability, in a role where her empowerment is a slow, difficult process, but believable and not rushed, as it would be in most other movies. She brings a warmth and depth to the lead role here and adds a lot to the movie. Helen Hunt has a supporting role, but anchors the film well, while Natalie Sharp and Lillian Doucet-Roche are radiant in colorful, memorable smaller roles. William Hurt provides a strong effort as well, as a man struggling with the loss of his wife and daughter, but he refuses to be buried under the grief. I had fun with The Miracle Season and I think it has some inspiring moments, so fans of uplifting family cinema or underdogs in sports should be satisfied.