‘Inspirational’ true stories don’t always make for my personal favourite films, considering how easy it is to make them into white saviour complex movies, saccharine-sweet, overly predictable, or all of the above. In Netflix’s ‘Blue Miracle,’ a real take off on traditional Disney sports films with a unique sport at its centre, thankfully, most of my fears never reach fruition.
Screenwriter Chris Dowling and Julio Quintana take the classic underdog tale and manage to give us something truly lively and blithely, while also introducing their audience to the world of fishing.
What is the story about?
Yes, it’s the 2014 Bisbee’s Black & Blue Fishing Tournament in the resort town of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. But the first frame of the film is a dream being experienced by “Papa” Omar (Jimmy Gonzales), who along with his wife Becca (Fernanda Urrejola), runs an orphanage called Casa Hogar for young boys, most of whom have lost their parents to the death and violence that plagues the area. The orphanage is in shambles and neck-deep in debt, but Hogar is all about keeping the faith when all you can eat for every meal is eggs or mackerel. Meanwhile, former champion fisherman, the washed up Captain Wade (Dennis Quaid) needs a victory. When the bank gives Omar 30 days to repay his debt, fate brings Wade and Hogar together for a competition that may get both out of troubled waters.
Most underdog tales, as I mentioned before, are quite predictable, and Blue Miracle has instances which border on being guessed from a miles away. In spite of the film being inspired by a true story (yes, fill my heart with joy because Casa Hogar is alive and well in Mexico), most of what the screenplay dramatises seems to be right out of a filmy fairy tale - healthy competition, reconciliation with home and family, and forming unlikely bonds with other humans - all those life lessons on finding your self-worth even in the time of adversity, it’s all there! Still, none of this at any point feels preachy, unnecessary or overdone. The screenplay is laced with small idiosyncratic bits and bobs of humour giving more life and character to the orphans, and most importantly, it has just the right amount of the tension that you need for an exciting sports tournament.
It’s a pleasant surprise to see Captain Wade only serving as a sounding board, if not a cautionary tale, for both Omar and his wonderful sons. He may be the expert fisherman and the one they need more if they have to save the orphanage, but most of the film turns out to be a life lesson for his poor choices. He gives them the literacy of a major skill in fishing, but that’s it. However small or big the victory, it is a team effort. Additionally, it is important that Omar isn’t bereft of flaws either. The ghosts of his difficult childhood plague him till the end, even as he becomes a symbol of integrity for his children. But the best part is that the children are written to be real children - they aren’t cutesy and annoying, they’re not bitter, rebellious or violent. They are kids with difficult childhoods who can spout a light-hearted jab as easily as they can present a brutal fact of life. The screenplay spends little to no time establishing pathos-filled backstories for any of them, or the politics of gangwar and violence in the area. This is a welcome change, as it makes the film feel fast-moving and precise.
The cast works really well together. Individually, Gonzales is wonderfully charming as Omar. But what really comes through is the love and respect he feels for the orphans he adopts. There are a few young actors who play important roles. Their roles are well-defined and some have been given great dialogues. Most of them really deliver on the banter. Even Quaid is a good addition to the cast, providing able support to the rest of the cast, and adding to the film’s star billing.
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Or you might want to book a ticket to the stunning coast of Cabo San Lucas because damn, Mexico is beautiful. The cinematography and production design adds layers to the film because we get to see both the light and dark side of this part of the country, one which is home to the dangers of violence and hatred and can yet bring out such a wonderfully uplifting story of human triumph.
Most of ‘Blue Miracle’ takes place on Wade’s tattered boat “Knot Enough” with just a handful of characters playing off the film’s larger themes. These are brought together quite well with well-balanced drama and some comedy. The fishing sequences itself are nail-biting, just what we want from a film of this style. Nothing is overdone and the cast is really great.
I’ve tried to steer clear of spoilers but you and I both know that the film seems predictable and by the numbers. It’s not just the tournament, but even the horrors that plague the protagonists and make them angry, disillusioned or bitter, are a bit done to death. The message of the film is formulaic and cliched. But for what it’s worth, everything about ‘Blue Miracle’ is really earnest and it might get you interested in fishing.
Did I enjoy it?
Yes. It surpassed my expectations, and I know the significance of catching a 300-pound marlin now.
Do I recommend it?
Yes! It may feel like an old-fashioned after-school special but this is a joyful afternoon movie which you can watch with your whole family.