IOWA CITY — If you see The Miracle Season this weekend, the best advice I can give is this:
Don’t leave too early.
The most emotional part of the movie is during the closing credits. It is there Hollywood ceases, and reality takes over.
Real photos and real video of Caroline Found, and of Iowa City West’s run to a state volleyball championship that follows. And the bittersweet memories of 2011 rush back.
As Ernie Found was quick to point out during an interview March 18 at the hometown screening at the Englert Theatre, The Miracle Season is not a documentary.
Yes, it’s based on the true story of the dramatic events that happened that fall, nearly seven years ago. But it is not a historical account. It’s much closer to fact than fiction, but with some notable exceptions.
• In the movie, Caroline’s death (via moped accident) occurs during the school year, after the team already has begun the season. In reality, she died Aug. 11, 2011, about two weeks before school opened for the fall and exactly two weeks before West’s first match.
• Other than Coach Kathy Bresnahan (played by Helen Hunt), Caroline Found (by Danika Yarosh) and Kelley Fliehler (by Erin Moriarty), members of the West team are generally assigned fictional names.
• Some of West’s opponents are fictional, as well. Cedar Rapids Montgomery, for one.
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• In the movie, West suffers loss after loss before suddenly turning the season around. In real life, the Women of Troy followed a 1-2 start with 17 consecutive victories and was ranked high all season. West finished the season with a 39-6 mark after outlasting Iowa City High in a five-set championship-match thriller.
The movie was filmed in Canada, for financial reasons. But give filmmakers credit for making West’s gymnasium and uniforms appear authentic.
As Hoosiers is to Milan, Ind., and boys’ basketball, The Miracle Season could have been to Iowa City West and volleyball. But, frankly, it’s not at that level.
An intriguing sidebar between the two:
In Hoosiers (released in 1986), basketball players were cast into roles, and learned how to act. In The Miracle Season, according to director Sean McNamara, it was the opposite — actresses like Yarosh, Moriarty and others were forced into learning volleyball skills.
I have read Bresnahan’s book, and I viewed the screening at Englert. One of the most powerful moments of the book (pages 150-152 of the hard-copy edition) is at a midseason moment of weakness for Bresnahan:
“‘Line,’ I say through my tears. ‘I need to know you’re OK. I need to know you’re with us in some way ... It doesn’t have to be anything big, darn it, just something.’”
Within minutes, Bresnahan locates three pennies, all heads-up. Pennies from heaven, she considers them.
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“Somehow, I know, I feel it in my soul, that Caroline sent me this sign to say she was all right.”
That moment wasn’t part of the movie (and it should have been), but here’s one that was ... and drew applause at Englert:
It happens just before the climactic match against City High, and Helen Hunt takes the microphone and asks everyone in the crowd to introduce themselves to someone they don’t know (like Caroline would).
Hunt is shaking hands with people in the front row of the bleachers, one of which is the real-life Bresnahan.
I’m biased — I’ve known and worked with Bresnahan for the better part of 20 years, including a difficult phone interview on the morning of Aug. 12, 2011. I’m not a book or film critic, but I prefer the book. The original storyline was so Hollywood-caliber, and in this case, Hollywood fell a little short.
I do plan to see the 99-minute movie again, though, and it’s worth your time, whether you’re familiar with the real story or not.
And if you go, don’t leave before the credits are over.
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