Synopsis: A former football coach transforms a small-town high school cross-country team into the best team in the state.
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Disney does it again. McFarland, USA is a triumphant real-life story brought to the big screen by Disney. It’s a story based around a down on his luck coach, that finds a coaching/teaching job in the unlikeliest of places.
Jim White (Kevin Costner) is a football coach out of a job after throwing a shoe at one of his players. We soon find out that isn’t the first incident where White loses his temper. Job availability for a coach with a bad record are slim to none. Enter McFarland High School. McFarland is a small, dusty, farming town in the middle of nowhere California. It is predominantly Hispanic, and a hub for produce picking.
White takes the job at McFarland and moves his wife Cheryl (Maria Bello), daughters Julie (Morgan Saylor), and Jamie (Elsie Fisher). The town is nothing what the family expected it to be. Dusty roads, poorly maintained homes and businesses, overall lack of businesses in general. It doesn’t take long for the White’s to feel like complete outsiders.
White is hired on to fulfill several openings at the high school, including P.E. teacher and football coach. After a disagreement with the head coach, he notices the unique running skills that his students possess. Soon after he decides to form a cross-country team and recruits his seven man team of runners. He trains, motivates, and inspires the group of kids to level they had never imagined they could achieve. Slowly the team starts to develop success and notoriety. The town rallies and bonds over the “Cougars” and White’s family becomes accepted by the community as the town that nobody knew of becomes the town everyone talks about.
Kevin Costner is brilliant in his portrayal of real-life coach Jim White. In what might be his best performance in decades, Costner reminds us why he used to be a one of the most prominent actors in the world. He is tough, but compassionate as Jim White. Costner does a fantastic job of keeping the character leveled, not making him sappy or weak, yet showing plenty of vulnerability. The scenes where who attempts to ingratiate with the locals where he goes to pick the fields with his players and their families, are some of the memorable scenes in the movie. Maria Bello does a fine job in this supporting performance as Cheryl White. She’s the rock of the family, and loans undying support to her husband throughout his various struggles and losses. Carlos Pratt adds a lot of life and raw emotion to the film and the character of Thomas Valles. It’s unfair to remiss the other six actors who comprise the team, they each add a dynamic element to the film and team.
McFarland, USA is exactly the kind of movie that Disney does best. There might not be a better studio that known how to bring real life stories to life on-screen as well as Disney does. They previously have hit the mark with films such as, Invincible, Secretariat, Miracle, and The Rookie. McFarland, USA is one of the best they have ever made. The truth, emotion, and triumph are just a few components that make this movie so appealing. The film is set in the 1980’s and it stays and feels true to the time.
Even though McFarland opens up nationwide on Oscar weekend, don’t be surprised if you hear about this movie a year from now. This might be the Birdman-like role for Kevin Costner that brigs him back into the Hollywood spotlight. The movie has plenty of heart and the feel-good aspect makes you want to cheer at the end. What should be applauded is the fact that majority of the cast is comprised of minorities of Hispanic descent. A movie like McFarland opens your eyes to stories you probably never heard and wouldn’t hear if it wasn’t made into a movie. The feat these runners achieve as a school and individuals is pretty amazing. The story might be fairly predictable, however there is plenty of doubt cast throughout that puts a question mark on how the final act with play out. A feel-good movie for everyone of all ages to enjoy and embrace.
McFarland, USA – 8 out of 10!
A motivational story about an impact a community can make