There's no denying that under the visionary guidance of Artistic Director Greg Sorvig Indy's own Heartland International Film Festival has spread its cinematic wings in recent years and broadened its horizons well beyond its exclusively family friendly and often faith-based or faith-inspired movie roots. In 2022 alone, Heartland has attracted such awards season fodder as The Whale, Women Talking, The Lost King, The Banshees of Inisherin, Till, and others. Heartland has even expanded to include horror, a decision that still befuddles some Heartland devotees but makes complete sense if you watch the films.
However, Sorvig is also a smart man and he's well aware that faithfulness to its roots is essential to the ongoing success of the increasingly acclaimed Heartland. As such, there will always be a place for and an audience at Heartland for such inspiring, family friendly fare as Rally Caps. Rally Caps is the kind of feel-good, family fare that many Heartland audience members love and there's almost no doubt they'll love this little gem of a film having its world premiere right here in Indy at Heartland.
I've got to be honest. The Heartland International Film Festival is the ideal place for a film like Rally Caps to premiere. It definitely puts the heart in Heartland.
Rally Caps tells the story of young Jordy (Carson Minniear), a baseball player who has his dreams of pitching for a Little League travel team derailed by a devastating injury on the field. Initially reclusive and traumatized, Jordy goes to summer camp where he meets Lucas (Colten Pride), a young catcher who is deaf and dealing with his own issues having just a cochlear implant surgery. The two become friends and Jordy becomes inspired to confront his fears and return to the mound where the two will help lead their team in the camp's championship game.
While watching the film, I couldn't help but flash back to my childhood Sunday evenings watching the always inspiring and always feel good Disney "movie of the week." Rally Caps has a warm and sincere retro vibe that fits just right within the story adapted by director Lee Cipolla based upon the novel by Jodi Michelle Cutler and Stephen J. Cutler. The team deserves kudos for the authentic casting of young Colten Pride and relative newcomer Carson Minniear has the kind of "kid next door" presence that makes you think of a young Frankie Muniz. He's a charmer and that charm spreads throughout Rally Caps.
I've long adored the under-appreciated Amy Smart and have enjoyed seeing a bit of a resurgence for her lately in a variety of family and faith-based films. Smart has a warm, winning presence that makes her ideal here as Jordy's mother Nora and while she's not asked to do a whole lot here she adds a layer of emotional honesty that gives extra depth to the story.
Oscar winner Judd Hirsch is here as Herb and like Smart he adds such a warmth and inviting presence that he instantly elevates the film every time he's on the screen. The now 87-year-old actor is garnering Oscar buzz for his work in Spielberg's The Fabelmans out later this year and I can't help but marvel at Hirsch's ability to still completely own the screen after all these years. He's an absolute joy here.
The film's ensemble cast has an almost Bad News Bears vibe to it with lots of heart and lots of humor. James Lowe is one of the film's absolute highlights as Coach Ballgame, a humorous mixture of goofball charm and heart that feels like a distant cousin to Bill Murray's character in Meatballs. Cathy Ladman and Casey Nelson also shine among a strong indie ensemble.
Rally Caps is the kind of indie motion picture that Heartland audiences love. It's got heart and humor and all the values that those of us who live in the heartland absolutely love and try to embody. This indie motion picture teaches universal lessons gently - empowering kids to have confidence in themselves, overcoming adversity, and truly believing that anything is possible among others. The authentic casting is a welcome presence - especially for this paraplegic/double amputee film journalist who knows that representation matters.
While Rally Caps isn't likely to be picking up golden statuettes this awards season, it's a poignant and entertaining film the entire family can enjoy and those who remember Heartland in its earliest days will absolutely enjoy.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic