Iowa City lost more than its star high school volleyball player when they lost Caroline Found. The 17-year-old, who died in a freak moped accident in 2011, was the heart and soul of the community and led her teammates at Iowa City West High School to the state championship title in 2010. Somehow, with the heart and soul no longer setting up the team's key plays, Caroline's teammates managed to fight through their tears and defend their state championship the following year.
It was the perfect plot for a movie.
The Miracle Season, a new film from Director Sean McNamara, is a heartbreakingly beautiful tribute to Found and her friends' unthinkable come-from-behind victory. Having struggled at the start of the season with the scars of losing their beloved captain, the team had to rally to win 15 straight games just to make it to the championship. They found themselves behind again at the final game, yet came back two sets down to win it all.
The film stars Oscar winner Helen Hunt as Coach Kathy "Brez" Bresnahan, who wrote the book that inspired the movie. Hunt worked with McNamara for the film Soul Surfer, which depicted surfer Bethany Hamilton's tragic run in with a shark and her incredible recovery. So, the two know something about how to turn a heartbreaking situation into a beautiful piece of art.
Some of the film's most heart wrenching scenes are watching Caroline's father Ernie cope with death. You see, he didn't only lose his daughter. Just over a week after Caroline's accident, his wife Ellyn lost her battle with pancreatic cancer. Oscar winner William Hurt beautifully captures Ernie's strength. We watch his courageous road to recovery - from the moment he collapses from the news of his daughter's death to his cheering in the stands for Caroline's teammates at the state championship.
We watch Caroline's friends and teammates struggle through their own heartbreak. They are inconsolable in their first few practices after their captain's death. Yet, slowly, they begin to rediscover the joy of the sport and how to "Live Like Line."
In that regard, the film was very well paced. In a conversation with Townhall, Director Sean McNamara explained that, while he would've liked to have Caroline in the film for at least 60 minutes, it would have been near impossible to allow her team to grieve, recover, train and defend their state title in just half an hour.
Parts of the film seem manufactured by Hollywood to reproduce that predictable movie magic. All the typical plot twists are there. The underdogs are down two sets in the championship game, only to rally back and win the match on a perfectly placed spiked ball that almost paints the line. It seems very farfetched...until you watch the real footage in the credits to realize that's exactly what happened.
The best stories aren't scripted. Iowa City West truly had a miracle season.
At the press screening, the audience cried about every 15-20 minutes. But the film included enough humor to keep the mood as light as was humanly possible considering the circumstances. The jokes served as reminders to celebrate Caroline's life and how she impacted the Iowa City West community, where her presence is still very much felt. The high school still gives out "Live Like Line" athletic awards each year, her dad explained in a sit down conversation with me last week.