Release Date: Feb. 20, 2015
Running Time: 128 minutes
McFarland, USA, Kevin Costner’s 467th sports film, tells the true story of Jim White, a coach at a predominately Hispanic high school in California who formed a cross-country running team that would win nine state championships in 14 years. In director Nikki Caro’s predictable but affecting underdog tale, White (Costner) arrives at McFarland High School in 1987 after losing his job as a football coach under terrible circumstances. White’s family is tired of moving, and the last place they want to be is in a dead-end agricultural town. White quickly realizes that higher education is not an option for his students—they are kids who work the fields with their parents before and after school—but he sees in some of them the physical ability and mental determination that would serve them well as cross-country runners. Cue White pushing his initially skeptical runners to their limits during training, petitioning their equally skeptical parents to let them run competitively, and the team losing their first few meets to schools populated by rich white kids and with access to significant resources. Of course, winning isn’t everything in McFarland, USA. It’s about the long and difficult process of instilling hope and pride in a community that does not have much reason to look beyond tomorrow. White’s real-life accomplishments in his adopted hometown are undeniable, and while Caro and her screenwriters try to make McFarland, USA as much about the team as it is about White, they have a tendency to portray the coach as the great white savior. As played by the reliably resolute Costner, White finds purpose and a sense of belonging in McFarland, but he ends up changing McFarland more than McFarland changes him. The individual struggles of the students at home and at the school are more interesting than that of their coach’s, and McFarland, USA would have benefited heartily had it been told from their perspective. While McFarland, USA engages in coach worship, just like almost every other fact-based sports drama, Caro does ensure that the triumphs in the film belong to the students who seize an unlikely opportunity to change their seemingly predetermined future. She also plays up the inspirational nature of the team’s success without getting overly sentimental. Oddly, though, it is the end credits that will bring tears to the eyes. Caro reunites the members of the 1987 team to run alongside the semi-retired White and provide updates as to where they are today. Most of them have gone on to become invaluable members of McFarland. This just shows to show that sports, like art, can make a difference in the life of a young person with no discernible options.
Aired: Feb. 19, 2015
Web site: http://movies.disney.com/mcfarland-usa