McFarland USA is an inspirational story about how coach Jim White galvanized a group of Latino teenagers from McFarland, California to become champions. To begin with, this is NOT a documentary. As is often the case, much was added to the film to create extra drama. That doesn’t take away from the message of the film. Kevin Costner plays coach White (the name being the subject of mostly affectionate humor during the film) with all the earnestness he has emoted in films like Field of Dreams. I can’t think of a better actor to play the role. And all of the other actors in the film are excellent as well.
Jim White (Costner) brings his family to McFarland after being fired from a number of jobs (in real life, White started teaching at McFarland straight out of college in the 1960’s). The kids who live in McFarland mostly are the children of farmers, and get up by 5:00 a.m. to work in the fields before school. There are layers of inspirational stories here, and the kids should get as much credit as the coach. These aren’t kids who dreamed of going to college, because their parents never did. That will change when coach White gets involved, urging them to take up cross-country running after he sees the distance the kids run to get home.
In the film, White has never coached cross country and the kids aren’t all wanting a new challenge. And becoming a team of cross country victors isn’t easy, especially as the kids continue to work in the fields and tend to schoolwork in addition to running. The White family (which includes Maria Bello as Cheryl White) bonds with the community as the coach urges the kids to think about winning and college. But as that happens, White becomes less bonded with his family for a while, even forgetting his daughter’s birthday. He makes it up to her after planning a quinceanara, complete with family and friends from the community. The girls were actually a few years older in real life than the movie suggests, in college – but it is a sweet scene nonetheless.
The crux of the McFarland USA story is that eventually there is victory for the cross country athletes and for coach White. The victory achieved is not only in the sense of winning races, but his 1987 team went on to go to college, something that they likely wouldn’t have dreamed of otherwise. Many have become teachers and also have helped the cross country team through the years, inspiring the newer generation of McFarland kids. That is something that can be found in the credits, and I recommend watching at least through that segment.
There are some bonus features, my favorite being McFarland Reflections (8:29) – this gives an insight from the real athletes.
Mousesteps grade: B
Release Date: February 20, 2015
Running Time: 128.5 minutes
Cast: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Martha Higareda, Michael Aguero, Sergio Avelar, Hector Duran, Rafael Martinez, Johnny Ortiz, Carlos Pratts, Ramiro Rodriguez, Danny Mora, Valente Rodriguez, Vanessa Martinez, Chris Ellis, Diana Maria Riva
Director: Niki Caro
Producers: Gordon Gray, Mark Ciardi
Executive Producers: Mario Iscovich, Mary Martin
Story by: Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois
Screenplay by: Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson