I am such a sucker for a good sports movie. I’m partial to baseball films, but really any movie about an athletic underdog is one I’m probably going to like. So when I got the chance to check out an advanced screening of Disney’s upcoming sports movie McFarland USA, I was all over it. McFarland USA is about a group of kids from Central California (middle of nowhere Central California) and the coach who pushes them to succeed in the sport of cross country. McFarland is a predominately Hispanic town and Coach White (that’s his actual name) is one of the few white guys around. There are some racial issues that ensue, but the focus of the film is more about the kids and the relationship they build with their coach. These are kids (teenagers, really) who are dealing with abusive parents, family members serving jail time, and parents who rely on them to work before and after school in order to make ends meet. Cross country becomes their escape, and opens up a world to them that they never would have known if it weren’t for their coach and his encouragement.
McFarland USA got off to a slow start for me. The first half hour or so of the film dragged and I was actually dreading writing this review because I didn’t think I would have many positive things to say. The emotions were lacking at first, and the dialogue was stilted and ineffective. But after that first half hour, it took a sharp turn into heartwarming territory and my waterworks flowed several times before the end. Kevin Costner gives a solid performance as Coach White, though he is probably a little old for the role. But he’s Kevin Costner so I guess we’ll forgive that. The “kids” playing the students were the highlights in terms of performance. The standouts for me were Carlos Pratts as lead runner Thomas and Michael Aguero as Damacio, one of the kids who has to work in the fields for hours both before and after school. With the exception of Costner and Maria Bello (who plays his wife), the cast are mostly unknowns (like don’t even have pictures on IMDB unknown) and I think that actually had a positive impact on the movie as a whole. I was able to really believe the struggles these kids were going through.
While there were no surprises in the underdog-pulls-out-the-win sports story, the movie kept me interested because of the kids. The hard work they put in and the struggles they went through are nothing short of inspirational. Maybe it’s because I have taught at schools with a mostly Hispanic population before, but something about their story really touched me (I’m not lying when I say I cried more than once). And as an educator, I really appreciated the work of this coach who sacrificed so much for his group of students. One of my favorite parts of the movie was actually the ending, when they showed the original team members and coach and gave updates on their lives. What can I say? It hit me in the feels.
Overall, if you enjoy a good sports film, definitely head out to see McFarland USA. Just make sure you bring some tissues with you.