McFarland, USA (2015)


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It’s kinda weird that for my “newer Disney movies review”, I’m doing 2 sports films back-to-back. I didn’t plan it that way; that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.

This one, on the other hand, crumbled away from the center outwards after having previously been dropped.
This one, on the other hand, crumbled away from the center outwards after having previously been dropped.

Today, we’re going to look at a movie focusing on cross-country running, a sport that I’ve personally never thought about much less watched a film about. Is it any good? Let’s take a look at McFarland, USA!

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

As the movie starts, we’re introduced to our main character: gym teacher/coach Jim White, played by Kevin Costner. He’s been fired from his last job for injuring one of his players (even though in my opinion, the player deserved what he got) and has to find a new job.

"Why can't rude kids be reprimanded? So many unanswered questions."
“Why can’t rude kids be reprimanded? So many unanswered questions.”

He takes up a position teaching life science and coaching at a primarily Latino high school in McFarland, California. McFarland is one of those poor cities in California and the Latino population makes the place look like Little Mexico. Even Jim’s younger daughter, Jamie, points this out when they’re driving to their new house.

"The border between California and Mexico is a thin one, darling."
“The border between California and Mexico is a thin one, darling.”

As you can imagine, Jim nor his elder teenage daughter, Julie, played by Morgan Saylor, is too happy about moving here. But, they know that they don’t really have any other option. That along with moral support from Jim’s wife, Cheryl, played by Maria Bello keeps them grounded.

Jim still isn’t enthusiastic about all this though and sees this as a temporary arrangement until he can get a better job somewhere else. Even his coaching technique showcases his laid-back attitude to his job.

He soon starts noticing that some of his students are incredibly fast runners who can run for long distances as well. He then gets the idea of starting a cross-country team at the school that he will coach. The principal of the school, played by Valente Rodriguez, shows some reluctance in accepting Jim’s proposition since Jim has never coached running before nor has run himself. In the end, he gives Jim permission to start this team. It’s not long before Jim gets 7 of the Latino students together and starts training them.

"Run around the roses, sweat's dripping from our noses, Atchoo, Atchoo, We all fall down."
“Run around the roses, sweat’s dripping from our noses, Atchoo, Atchoo, we all fall down.”

It’s not long before the team competes in their first preliminary race against other high schools. And our heroes who have been training for this day, their first race…end up losing. Yeah, they come in last place.

Jim tries to keep his team’s spirits up, but decides to be a bit more strict in his training with the boys. Although the team’s progress does improve, the strictness/coldness does away with any sense of unity or bond between Jim and the boys. It makes the team seem like a non-living entity and Jim as merely a caretaker of it.

It’s only after Jim becomes a part of his team’s lives as well as part of McFarland’s community do things really change. He soon befriends all the boys, sees the hard work they do picking crop in the early hours of the morning, understands the family relationship and problems that they all have at home, befriends his neighbors, and even hosts a Quinceañera for Julie.

I'm pretty sure none of them can spell the word since I don't see any banners anywhere.
I’m pretty sure none of them can spell the word since I don’t see any banners anywhere.

Things are pretty much great until Jim remembers the one bad thing about a town like McFarland: the violence. When a gang attack almost endangers Julie, Jim goes off the end and starts looking for employment elsewhere. This causes friction between him, his family, and his team.

Nevertheless, the team has been winning multiple races even going so far as to being qualified for the State Finals. And soon, it’s that big day! The whole city of McFarland is excited about this and the vast majority of the citizens leave their homes/jobs to go witness this event. And like all underdog movies, our heroes…win! Yep, McFarland wins the State Finals!

 Everyone is ecstatic about this (well, maybe not the losers, lol) and Jim realizes the community of love and family that McFarland provides. He gives up his plans of moving somewhere else and decides to live in McFarland. The film ends with a clip of the real Jim White and the real original runners running down a stretch of land.

I've been thinking long and hard about what caption to put under here, but it's no use. Any suggestions?
I’ve been thinking long and hard about what caption to put under here, but it’s no use. Any suggestions?

And that was McFarland, USA. This film is very similar in style and even plot-wise to another 2015 film called Spare Parts.

A film which should have made more money at the box office than it did!
A film which should have made more money at the box office than it did!

It was also based on a true story and starred George Lopez as a teacher who went to a predominantly Latino school to teach, started training a group of kids for a competition, bonded with them after a while, and ended up having them win the competition despite problems going on in their personal lives. The main difference was that the competition in that film was robotics.

And while I couldn’t help thinking about Spare Parts all while watching this film (as well as thinking that Spare Parts is the better film), this film wasn’t bad either.

Heck, this movie even had George Lopez's friend, Ernie, from George Lopez!
Heck, this movie even had George Lopez’s friend, Ernie, from George Lopez!

McFarland, USA provides a look into the lives of Hispanic students, lives that most minorities can identify with, but that many other people aren’t aware of. It makes us feel connected with the characters and the community of McFarland.

The acting wasn’t anything spectacular, but neither was it embarrassing or bad. Kevin Costner wasn’t as bad as some people make him out to be and the boys did their best job, especially since many of them haven’t acted much or even at all before this film!

Some complaints that I can make about this film is that it was a little bit too long and I felt that many of the scenes could have been condensed/executed differently for a better overall flow. But, in the end,  it wasn’t bad. And that’s pretty much how I’d describe this film: it’s not bad. If you like Disney sports films or films like this, you should give this a watch.

(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)


So, the final score for this film is 26/35 = 74.29% (C) !

The next review will be posted on October 5th.

7 thoughts on “McFarland, USA (2015)

  1. Cool. This film really resonated to me. It reminded me of Hoosiers which I also recommend. Both movies are about towns more than they are about sports. I liked that for the most part they stayed away from tropes of typical teen movies and had individual boys with unique personalities. I thought the insight into the families and their life as pickers was really moving. One of my favorites of the year. I’m glad you thought it wasn’t bad. The pacing didn’t bother me. I feel like Kevin Costner has left the bad acting days far in the past and is generally very respected. He does a good job here.

      1. I haven’t but I remember seeing the trailer. I’m a sucker for these kind of inspirational stories so I will have to check that out.
        Hoosiers is so well acted. I think Dennis Hopper won an oscar for it.

      2. Hmmm. I really like Miracle but I was more emotionally invested in this one. My favorite sports movie is Hoosiers, Warrior, and Rudy but this is one of my favorites. I bought it on bluray. I also like that it is squeeky clean one I can watch with whole family.

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