Despite the broad crowd-alluring appeal of many of Blue Miracle’s ingredients (a beautiful warm location, sweeping cinematography of a crisp blue ocean, a struggling orphanage packed with cute, quippy kids, an intense competition, Dennis Quaid in a vest), there’s something pretty brave about trying to copy the Disney sports movie formula but replacing baseball or ice hockey with … fishing.
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It’s not the easiest sell for anyone who isn’t glued to the World Fishing Network (1997’s Gone Fishin’ made a loss of more than $30m) and it’s perhaps one of the reasons why the film was ultimately sold to Netflix, a safe space for precarious box office risks. But even for those whose only memory of staring at water with a rod in hand is one of cold, crushing boredom (I speak from glum experience), it’s a slick little crowd-pleaser and one that could have charmed and cheered an audience of all ages if they were somehow convinced to go see it. It’ll hopefully find its way to people at home, in among the flotsam, and while it’s unlikely to lead to a fishing boom (for many practical reasons, this is not going to do for the sport what The Queen’s Gambit did for chess) it does a surprisingly effective job at making us care what’s on the end of the line.
It’s based on the under-reported story of an orphanage in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, that was struggling for money even before the devastating Hurricane Odile in 2014. Finances then went from bad to impossible, causing Omar (Jimmy Gonzales) to do something he hates: ask for help. In the film he finds himself at the local headquarters of Bisbee’s, a company known for its high-stakes fishing tournaments. Also affected by the hurricane, they decide to waive fees for local fishermen in order to ensure the competition still takes place as semi-normal. Omar is forced into teaming up with grizzled two-time winner Wade (Quaid), who reluctantly lets him and some of the kids on the boat, aiming for the $250,000 prize.
Directed by Julio Quintana, a mentee and collaborator of Terrence Malick, Blue Miracle might not be what one expects from that description (it’s a proudly mainstream 95-minute family movie) but it does possess the vague remnants of that relationship. Within the constraints of his straightforward material, Quintana demonstrates a visual language that speaks less to his inexperience as a director (it’s only his second film) and more to his master tutelage, first with the lived-in neon-hued streets of the town but then, most obviously, with the remarkable vistas surrounding it as we head out on the water. The scale of the film separates it from the majority of the streamer’s often pedestrian originals, transporting us in a way that helps distract from some of the more rote moments.
Quintana and co-writer Craig Dowling’s script is formula 101, without a beat you won’t see coming, and while it mostly goes down well enough, there are a few character shifts that feel a little overly expedited, some emotional wins that feel unearned, and while the predictable finale is undeniably rousing, it moves us enough to feel a little jolted by the abruptness with which it then ends. Gonzales makes for a charming lead, a warm, paternal foil to Quaid’s grumpy captain and absent father, the two wrestling with opposing definitions of masculinity and how to properly teach young boys without parents how to process hardship and competition. Quaid has been leaning into his age of late as he edges toward his 70s, after playing a get-off-my-lawn psycho in The Intruder, and he makes for an effective grouch here, his elder years suggesting Eastwood-lite character work to come.
As his walls lower and his cynicism softens, it’s likely that many viewers will find themselves similarly unguarded, the comforting waves of the story lulling us into submission. It’s the sort of old-fashioned string-puller that when done well is hard to resist even if we know the strings are being pulled, like we’re aware of the bait but powerless to resist.
Blue Miracle is available on Netflix from 27 May
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