Following an incident in the locker room of a high school football game, Jim White loses yet another job, leaving his options nearly depleted. Taking a job in McFarland, he and his family quickly feel like fish out of water in a primarily Hispanic community. With a smaller home and unfamiliar surroundings, they barely pull the strength together to give their new life a shot. Jim starts his new job as the life science and gym teacher, and has to bite his tongue about being the assistant coach for football. When he immediately clashes with the head coach, he loses his connection to football but gains an opportunity to pursue something new. Noticing the talent of some of the boys, he proposes starting a cross country team and recruits seven students to compete in state competitions. With they sights on the first state championship meet, their training challenges his perceptions of the community and the students’ perceptions of their future.
Review: Disney took another shot at promoting a feel-good sports story. Considering all of the films that look at cultural differences and the coach learning as much as the kids and their families, the question remained whether this film would establish itself as something different. Niki Caro ended up choosing a sport and a population rarely promoted together. Although the overall feel was not drastically different than similar films, it contained a lot of heart, cultural discovery, and positive messages.
Kevin Costner (Jim White) seems to be the king of these types of movies. While his acting was somewhat flat and lacked emotion, the focus of the story was less about him and more about the kids. Carlos Pratt (Thomas Valles) led the runners with a dramatic story, including a difficult home life and strong inner drive to find a life more than picking. Ramiro Rodriguez (Danny Diaz) also shined as a young start showing heart through his inability to give up and take the abuse of his coach and peers. Jim White’s family, including Maria Bello (Cheryl White), Morgan Saylor (Julie White), and Elsie Fisher (Jamie White), help to round out the positive forces that change his opinion of the town of McFarland.
The running was a significant part of the film, but the community interaction was just as meaningful. This was not revolutionary, McFarland, USA was heartwarming and inspirational.
Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5