Caroline Found was the best.
Everyone from Iowa City West High School thought so, especially her teammates on the volleyball team. Caroline—called “Line” by her friends—wasn’t just the team’s setter. Not just its captain. She was the squad’s smiling, shouting, beating heart, always with a smile or joke at the ready. Her zest for life was unbridled, contagious. She didn’t just lead the team to a state championship in 2010: She lifted them there.
“This is our year, Kel,” she tells her best friend, Kelly, in 2011. “Our year.”
And then, without warning, Line was gone—her life snuffed out aboard a moped she wasn’t supposed to ride.
For some, it was as if the sun clicked off.
Her father, Ernie, is the first to hear the news. He’s alone when the police come to his door, and he crumples into their arms when he hears.
Coach Kathy Bresnahan is in bed when she learns. She grieves as deeply as almost anyone. But at Line’s funeral, she can’t even shake Ernie’s hand. She leaves the reception and runs away, back to her gym and to her game plans.
And Kelly … well, she feels as if her right arm’s been cut off. Line had always been the instigator, the encourager, the sometimes troublemaker. Without her, Kelly feels not just lost, but incomplete. How can the volleyball season go on? How can life itself move forward?
Coach Bresnahan tells Kelly that the team’s looking to her to know how to react, how to take the next step. “Even with everything going on in her life, [Line] played volleyball,” the coach tells her. “I think we need to play volleyball.”
But the court stays empty. Ernie holes up in his house. Kelly cries in the bathroom. The first game after Line’s death: a forfeit. The team couldn’t bear to show up.
But Kelly realizes that that’s no way to honor her friend. “Line would’ve hated [forfeiting],” Kelly tells her teammates. “The thought of playing volleyball again makes me physically ill, but I’m going to do it.”
And so she does. So they all do. And if you read the movie’s title, you know what comes next.
Anyone who’s truly experienced grief—the loss of a child, a parent, a best friend—knows how cataclysmic it can feel. How life itself can seem drained of color and meaning. To move past grief can take more than time: It can take a Herculean will to move forward. But that’s just what we see from the main characters in The Miracle Season. While still grieving a beloved young woman’s death, each of these characters, in their own unique ways, decides to live a little like Line.
Take Kelly, long the quiet sidekick in Line’s superhero epic. In Line’s absence, she gradually and gracefully assumes the mantle of leadership for the team. She’s still quiet, make no mistake. But she exhorts and encourages her teammates just as Line had done, pushing them to work, perform, achieve and—in the end—even have a little fun.
Coach Bresnahan embraces Line’s legacy, as well. The taciturn coach has long avoided every party, eschewed every show of intimacy. But as the team rallies around Line’s inspirational spirit, she begins to open up. “I’m sorry there’s been so much pressure on you guys,” she says. “I told you to win for Line, as if that would somehow make sense of how she died. … If we want to show how much we miss her, we should play—with joy.”
Ernie, too, finds strength to go on, along with solace in those around him. At first, he has a hard time even watching a game. But eventually he becomes something of a rally point—encouraging the team and indeed the whole school to “Live Like Line.” He also becomes a surrogate father of sorts to Kelly, too. When she expresses unease at taking Line’s place as setter for the team, Ernie assures her that she’s not replacing Line; she’s just doing what Line would’ve wanted her to do.
And when Kelly struggles with the idea of returning to competitive volleyball, Ernie encourages her to push forward. “All the handouts say to channel your anger and guilt into something,” he tells her as he chops wood. “This is all I’ve found. Maybe you can find something better.”
Line’s death is, obviously, a devastating blow to Ernie. But his wife (and Line’s mother) suffers from cancer, too. During Line’s church-based funeral, Mrs. Found is wheeled to the sanctuary in a wheelchair, but she insists on walking in “on her own two feet.” And when she gets to the casket, she leans over and says, “No matter what, we’ll be together.” The movie tells us that she died the next day.
This tragic double whammy does a number on Ernie’s Christian faith. When a friend of his calls Ernie to offer his heartfelt condolences and wishes God’s blessings on him, Ernie snaps. “God hasn’t exactly shown up for me lately,” he says, and hangs up the phone.
But that moment marks Ernie’s lowest spiritual ebb. He later meets the same friend in church. “I think it’s time for me to express some long overdue thanks,” he tells his pal as they sit in a pew together. “I was so angry.” Ernie goes on, talking about how blessed he feels to have had the love and companionship of both his wife and daughter. “I know how blessed I am,” Ernie says. “I can’t blame Him for wanting [Line] back,” Ernie adds. “She’s a keeper.”
Early in the movie, before Line dies, Ernie tells her that he’s going to the hospital to visit her mother. Line jokes that maybe Dad’s “getting lucky” with Mom. (They do kiss, but that’s the most we see. “After all these years, we still got it,” he says.)
Line also forces Kelly to introduce herself to a new (male) student. Both Line and Kelly ogle the guy a bit from the car. Later, at a party, Line quizzes Kelly about whether the two of them have kissed yet. (Kelly says no, but says that it’s not out of the realm of possibility.)
They do become an item before the end of the film, and we see the couple kiss.
Line’s accident takes place off camera: We hear that she was killed in a moped accident, but we see neither the crash nor its aftermath.
God’s name is misused four times, along with a couple of near-uses (such as “for gar sakes”). Someone says “p-ss” and “sucked.”
Someone jokes about the team’s success being built on “good old steroid-fed Iowa beef.” Two adults drink what one refers to as “champagne,” though it looks a lot more like bottles of beer.
Line doesn’t tell her father about the moped she’s driving around. “Your dad is going to kill you,” Kelly says. “Not if he never notices it,” Line tells her. Line also makes a game of eating a whole pizza on an apparent dare as her teammates cheer her on. Coach Bresnahan is not amused, and she forces Line to spit it out (messily) in a waiting trashcan.
After Line dies, Kelly is torn by guilt. She goes to Ernie to confess what she believes was her culpability in Line’s death: “I knew that Line had the moped,” she says tearfully. “I knew that she was taking it to the hospital. If I had told you—”
Ernie cuts her off.
“If,” he says. “Do you want to hear my list of ifs?”
If he hadn’t taken such a hard line on mopeds, maybe he would’ve known she was using one. If he’d known, he could’ve at least made sure she was wearing a helmet. If he had taken Line to the hospital earlier in the day like she asked, she wouldn’t have felt the need to drive there that evening.
If. If. If.
“There’s no end to the ifs,” he tells Kelly.
We all have a lot of ifs lurking in our lives. If we had said this. If we hadn’t said that. If we had just tried harder. If we just could have been more forgiving.
We all have regrets. Even if we haven’t lost a daughter to a tragic accident ourselves, we all have regrets. And they have a way of gnawing at us.
The Miracle Season, based on a true story, offers viewers a lot, from its strong performances to its inspirational narrative. But most of all, this drama reminds us that dwelling on the ifs in life is no way to live it. We can’t concentrate on the misstep we just took: We have to think about the next step. The only way forward is through.
It’s a rare film that I don’t feel iffy about recommending, by the way, but I feel like I can recommend this one with little reservation. While it’s not perfect, either aesthetically or from a content perspective, The Miracle Season keeps its nose pretty clean and its story pretty compelling. And while I wouldn’t want to tell you whether to see it, I’m glad that I did.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.