Staff Columnist

'The Miracle Season' misses some facts, but aces Iowa City spirit

New film based on Caroline Found, West High volleyball

Actress Danika Yarosh, who played Caroline Found, answers questions from the media on the red carpet before the hometown special screening of
Actress Danika Yarosh, who played Caroline Found, answers questions from the media on the red carpet before the hometown special screening of "The Miracle Season" at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Sunday, Mar. 18, 2018. "The Miracle Season", which will be released to theaters on April 13, 2018, is based on the story of Caroline Found and the 2011 Iowa City West High School Girls’ Volleyball Team. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Movie viewers across the country are getting a small glimpse of Iowa City spirit.

The Miracle Season” was released nationally last week, telling the story of the an Iowa City West High volleyball team rallying after the death of a teammate to win a second consecutive state title.

Team captain Caroline Found died in a moped crash just before the start of volleyball season in 2011. The movie is based on a book by the same name, authored by Found’s coach, Kathy Bresnahan.

Many locals will point out that “The Miracle Season” on the big screen drifts away from the facts more than a few times. But it also gets so much right, from the excitement of Iowa high school athletics championships, to the enduring sense of community Iowa City residents foster.

The film is getting a lukewarm reception from national movie critics, most of whom found the underlying story worthwhile but also found the screen treatment overly sappy. The movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives “Miracle Season” a so-so 34 percent rating, noting “one-dimensional characters and aggressively maudlin storytelling undercut any emotional uplift.”

That criticism was not shared by the sold-out crowd I joined at FilmScene in Iowa City last weekend, where a few patrons quietly sniffled and sobbed throughout the showing. For those of us who feel a connection to Found’s story, however indirect, the movie struck the right tone.

I don’t personally know any of the people depicted on screen, nor anyone else from that 2011 volleyball team. I followed the story that year like many others did, by reading reports in the news and social media posts from the West High community.

Yet it still was easy to connect with the story. “The Miracle Season” is not just about the tragedy and triumph of one girls’ volleyball team, but also a sympathetic portrait of our caring community.

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Although it was filmed in Canada, well-placed corn rows and later snowy fields deliver a convincing sense of place and of Johnson County’s stark seasons. Downtown Iowa City in the movie doesn’t look much like the real thing, but locals will see filmmakers at least attempted to recreate our hip, vibrant atmosphere.

Anyone who played team sports as a teen will appreciate the intense camaraderie captured in the movie. And just like the West High team turned their 2011 season into an opportunity to spread their lost teammate’s positive spirit, her loved ones continue to do the same now, seven years later.

The Live Like Line Foundation, led by Bresnahan and others connected to the school district, offers small financial grants to help Iowa City students participate in school activities. It’s a fitting tribute to a girl who cared deeply about her team and her community.

There is much to divide Iowa Citians, like sports rivalries, town-versus-gown clashes surrounding the university, controversial construction projects and a long list of local political battles. But despite all our differences, Iowa City residents frequently come together for much bigger causes.

That sense of community one of this town’s best qualities, and “The Miracle Season” reminds us why.

• Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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