As far as feel-good sports movies from Disney go, “McFarland, USA” is one to be remembered. This heartwarming film directed by Niki Caro is sure to have the viewer out of his or her seat, cheering for the underdog from beginning to end.
“McFarland, USA” tells the true story of Jim White (Kevin Costner), the downtrodden, recently fired high school football coach who is relocated to a less-than-ideal job. After his impulsive anger leaves him unemployed, his family moves to McFarland, Calif., a dilapidated, predominately Hispanic town in which his family feels out of place. He lands a multifaceted job at the local high school as an assistant football coach/physical education teacher/life science teacher. As White struggles to find his niche, his two daughters and his wife also struggle to fit into this foreign town. One day during P.E., White notices that several of his students are extremely fast, well-conditioned runners because of their work as pickers in the fields just outside of town. Coach White recruits seven Hispanic boys with no clear future and starts a cross-country team at McFarland. The White family forms a special bond with the runners as well as the town of McFarland, and Coach White helps lead the runners to become the 1987 California cross-country state champions.
In typical Disney fashion, the film is injected with just the right amount of appropriate humor at the right times. Costner, a typically serious, hardcore actor in his other films such as “3 Days to Kill” and “The Guardian” makes no exception in this movie. His tough, wise exterior is only compromised in a few moments with sarcastic, witty comments to his athletes, or concern for the safety of his daughter after she unintentionally gets involved in deadly gang activity. Costner does a good job of embodying the “down-on-luck” kind of coach whose tough exterior is eventually cracked because of the love and respect he has for his athletes.
Caro, known for her heartfelt films, made no exception with the directing of “McFarland, USA.” Just as in “Whale Rider” and “North Country,” her storyline follows an unassuming character or group of characters as they rise to the pinnacle of success and become heroes.
The film is extremely well written and directed in a way that never makes the viewer lose interest. Each scene is well thought out and adds its own special touch to the whole movie. That being said, in many feel-good sports films, it is easy to feel at times that the drama and emotion is a bit forced and “cheesy.” This film, however, shows no signs of cliche, overly emotional sports scenes, which can be easy to overdo in these types of movies.
The filming itself pays much attention to detail, often zooming close into each characters face and showing their emotions, blood, sweat and tears just about as close up and personal as one can get. Filmed in California, diverse scenery of fields, mountains, deserts and oceans makes this film very visually pleasing. Sweeping high deserts of the Palo Alto area contributes to the visual aspect while spotlighting the difficult terrain that the young athletes must learn to master.
In addition, the fact that the sport in the movie is not a seemingly overdone high-impact sport such as football, soccer or basketball is a refreshing change. It is new and exciting to see an often overlooked sport such as cross-country be exposed in a positive light. This film is the “Friday Night Lights” of cross-country.
Another subtle but effective addition to the film is the musical score. Comprised of primarily instrumental pieces, the background music is largely made up of traditional Latin sounds. This type of music plays during scenes in the field while the boys are picking produce, or at the local dining spot. Like any good musical score, the music in “McFarland, USA” never distracts the viewer from the scene, but instead enhances the viewing experience and adds subtle but necessary nuances to the film.
This is an absolute “must see” film for this year, but it seems this film will be extremely underrated and underappreciated.
While the trailer makes viewers excited to see the film, it does not do it justice.
This feel-good, classic tale of the underdog rising to victory is certainly a treat to watch, and to have it be based on a true story is the icing on the cake. This movie seems too good to be true in all the right ways. This film causes viewers to experience a wide range of emotions from beginning to end. “McFarland, USA” will have you laughing, crying and cheering for the underdog as you watch the McFarland Cougars race to victory.