McFarland, USA

by Alan Rapp on February 20, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: McFarland, USA
  • IMDb: link

McFarland, USAMiracle. The Rookie. Cool Runnings. Remember the Titans. Walt Disney Films has a talent finding true stories and adapting them into surprisingly moving films. Hell, even Eight Below was better than it had any right to be. Sure sometimes the efforts limp to the finish line (remember Secretariat?), but more often than not the tales of struggle, perseverance, and overcoming great odds turn out to be solid family films.

Based on the true story of troubled sports coach Jim White who took a job in the only place that would hire him, Kevin Costner stars as a man struggling with not being able to better support his family who, despite their initial distrust of the predominantly Mexican-American town, eventually come to think of McFarland, California as home.

The story follows a basic pattern as White and his family (Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Elsie Fisher) come to embrace the town made up of mostly fruit pickers including a group of young kids (Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Ramiro Rodriguez, Rafael Martinez, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, Michael Aguero) who White will turn into a cross country team.

There’s nothing particularly flashy or groundbreaking about the film. It’s a sports movie centered around a group of underdogs who turn out beat the odds and prove their coach right. Despite feeling familiar the film never falls into cliche. What it does deliver are strong performances across the board including those of White’s students (even if Carlos Pratts did appear a bit too old to still be in school). And I enjoyed how the movie found ways to explore Bello’s character and that of the family’s two younger daughters each who find different ways to appreciate their new home.

At times the movie has to fight the impulse to turn sappy, but director Niki Caro (whose previous films include North Country and Whale Rider) makes sure to infuse the film with both humor and heart while acknowledging the struggles of everyone making the best of what little they have to be proud of in one of the poorest towns in America. The result is yet another Disney live-action inspirational sports film that succeeds despite the fact how familiar it all feels or the audience’s understanding of exactly where the finish line sits and approximately how long it will take White, his family, and his students to get there.

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