PLOT After its captain’s death, a high school girls volleyball team tries to win a state championship.
CAST Erin Moriarty, Helen Hunt, William Hurt
RATED PG (themes of death and illness)
BOTTOM LINE This dramatization of a true story is long on sentiment, short on character and drama.
The inspirational sports drama “The Miracle Season” is based on the true story of Caroline Found, a 17-year-old girl who died in a moped accident in 2011. Her death left the girls volleyball team at Iowa City West High School without a captain until Found’s best friend, Kelley Fliehler, stepped up. The film describes how the girls of West overcame their grief and reached the Iowa state championship.
The story of Found, Fliehler and their team — already a book and an episode of HBO’s “Real Sports” — comes with built-in emotional impact and a feel-good sports narrative. That doesn’t automatically make it a movie. “The Miracle Season,” directed by Sean McNamara from a script by David Aaron Cohen and Elissa Matsueda, hits all the right notes of grief, faith and triumph, but forgets to make us care about the people at the core of its story.
Nowhere is that more evident than in Found (Danika Yarosh). She’s the movie’s emotional linchpin, yet we learn little about her beyond her high energy level and blond hair (lovingly captured by cinematographer Brian Pearson). Found exits the film quickly, then serves mostly as an emotional trigger for the other girls. Their grief is so overwhelming that when no-nonsense coach Kathy “Brez” Bresnahan (Helen Hunt) tells them to cry off-court, they flee from the gym en masse and in tears.
Meanwhile, Fliehler (Erin Moriarty) struggles with understandable doubts, but her character isn’t interesting. She’s been sanded down to a perfect, edgeless ball of likability: no problems, no dark emotions, no faults. There is also something unsettling about the film’s presentation of Moriarty in this role: In her blondness and cuteness, she’s almost indistinguishable from the actress who played Found. It’s as if one girl is supposed to be the other’s reincarnation, rather than her own person.
The most empathetic figure is Found’s father, Ernie, who loses his wife to cancer shortly after his daughter’s accident; he rings true, thanks to a quiet performance from William Hurt. “The Miracle Season” tries hard to manipulate our emotions, but it might have fared better if it trusted us to make up our own minds.