It’s been what, at least 15 minutes since Disney put out an inspirational sports story? Guess it’s time for another one. McFarland, USA is a drama loosely (and I use the term loosely very loosely) based on real life events in a town of the same name.
This is your standard white teacher versus angry ethnic students trope. In this case, we meet Jim White (Kevin Costner) a former football coach who earns back his mojo when he sees some of his students running to and from work and school, mainly out of necessity. So he decides the best way to help these disadvantaged students is to set up a cross country team. Of course, this immediately creates some parental and student hostility. But White perseveres and soon goes on to coach the school’s first championship long distance running team.
How close is the film to real life? Unfortunately, it looses credibility because of the back-story of White. In the movie, White is a former big city coach who gets fired and is forced to move to a small farming community. In real life, Jim White lived there for the majority of his professional life. There was no angst filled back story and I thought the addition of one was unnecessary.
But I will say, despite the Hollywood treatment of White’s back-story, it’s an emotionally honest film. The movie is heavily focused on the Hispanic farm working community, and it’s clear to see how bleak and depressed many of those community member’s futures are. The kids are kids who expect to go on to do what their fathers, and their grandfathers did before them. The cross country team might become their last chance of escape and you can feel that through the work of the director.
This is a movie that could have gone horribly wrong. A pasty white hero saving a group of young hoodlums. But it doesn’t, because of careful storytelling. We seen Jim help his students, but we also see his students help him become part of a community he just doesn’t understand. While the film might be a bit simplistic, it’s the simplicity that sells it. White has his own misconceptions and prejudices, and he’s not depicted as some a savior, which keeps this film from turning into a pile of mush.
It did go on a bit longer than it needed to. This was a story that could have been told in 90 minutes, but the director felt the need to pad out the script with a ton of reaction shots. The end does feature some of the real life participants of the event, along with what happened to them, which makes for a satisfying conclusion.
It’s also not often that you see a movie that focuses on cross-country. For the most part, sports movies focus on football, basketball and baseball respectively. Telling the story of a cross country team helps bring some recognition to the sport and helps people see it in a different light.
It’s worth the watch. Despite the forced culture clashes and predictable storyline, this is a well-intentioned movie with heart and one that makes viewers focus on a sport they wouldn’t normally.
WE GAVE IT: 4 Stars – Watch the Official Trailer and Official Movie Poster below!