I got the chance to see a very special film today, McFarland USA. I know you see the pictures and you probably think it’s like every other motivational sports movie but I’m telling you it is a special movie. I happen to love sports movies like Warrior, Hoosiers and Miracle and this is right up there with those great films but it has a human component that you don’t always see which I found very moving.
McFarland starts out kind of like Hoosiers with Kevin Costner’s Jim White getting in an altercation with a football player and getting fired. As a last resort him and his family get a job in McFarland, California, a poor crop picking agricultural mostly latino town.
His wife played by the always lovely Maria Bello and daughter Julie (Morgan Saylor) and daughter Jamie are at first disgusted and a little scared of living in McFarland. It is a seemingly dangerous neighborhood in a foreign land.
One of the things I learned on my 20 month mission for my church was in every poor ‘scary’ neighborhood there are families trying desperately to make things work and to make things better for their children. We have this idea you cross the tracks and it leads to inherent gang activity just isn’t true. McFarland USA does a good job showing this reality. That there are good neighbors in every neighborhood in America. That’s a great lesson for kids.
Costner ends up getting fired as assistant football coach but the principal (Valente Rodriguez) who I loved every scene he was in can’t lose any teachers so he keeps Costner around.
As he teaches PE he starts to notice many of the kids can run and he gets the crazy idea to start a cross country team.
The boys initially resist being on the team because they have work crop picking to do before and after school. Costner even goes out to work at the picking one day and he says it was the ‘worst day of work in his life’ but he vows to make it work for the team and the more time together the more bonded he and the boys get.
This material could have so easily veered into caricature and simplistic portrayals of a white man in a latino world but it doesn’t. The conversations and personalities felt authentic and real. Each of the boys has their own personality but not in the archetype way of Mighty Ducks. These are individuals and we root for every last one of them.
I particularly liked Carlos Pratts as team captain and star runner Thomas Valles. It is a subtle conflicted sweet performance and character.
There was a point at the end when I was worried it was going to go the Pay it Forward route and give us an awful ending but then it didn’t so all was well.
It’s really quite the feat because I can’t think of a sport that is more boring to watch than cross country but the sport is just window dressing to a movie about teens, our failing educational system, family, culture, poverty and giving people something to dream about.
I really can’t say enough good things about it. It has huge heart, good performances, and shows a side of urban life we rarely see- the functioning happy families that do exist and add so much to our country.
I think everyone should see and take your kids. It’s a real winner. Trust me on this. It’s great.
There are a few tense moments but other than that nothing to offend or be concerned about. A family film that will inspire everyone.
Overall Grade- A, Content Grade- A