Editor’s Notes: McFarland, USA is out on Blu-ray/DVD June 2nd.
McFarland, USA (Disney) is a small film, comparatively speaking. Though it features a star, it has arrived without the usual fanfare afforded a major Hollywood production. With a small budget and a cast of young actors new to the screen, it follows the well traveled formula of sports movie with heart.
Jim White (Kevin Costner) has jumped to one high school coaching job after another. Now, after a particularly bad episode of unchecked temper, his options are limited. The only job he can find is at McFarland High, a public school in one of the poorest areas of central California. He and his wife and daughters find their new neighborhood of Mexican immigrants unfamiliar and threatening.
With a small budget and a cast of young actors new to the screen, it follows the well traveled formula of sports movie with heart.
Seeing that several students in his phys ed class are fast runners, White encourages the principal to create a cross country team. But he is unaware of the demands placed on his team by their parents, who are pickers in the fields and need their sons’ help before and after school. His practice schedule conflicts with his team’s family priorities.
In the mold of such feel-good sports dramas as Cool Runnings, Glory Road, Miracle, and Remember the Titans, McFarland, USA shows White learning about the boys he is coaching and their tough day-to-day existence.
Costner has the ability to convey decency even though his character’s actions may suggest otherwise. We see White transforming from a guy desperate to hold onto a job to support his family to a thoughtful man who learns from others the importance of placing family first.
Maria Bello plays Cheryl, the dutiful wife who encourages, advises, and offers support. Cheryl proves to be the bridge between feeling like an outsider and being accepted by the community, a lesson that takes longer for her husband to grasp.
Carlos Pratts portrays the team’s fastest runner, Thomas Valles. Initially suspicious of White and hesitant to join the team, Thomas proves to be the team’s anchor as the standings of the team gradually improve through various track meets. Other team members are played by Ramiro Rodriguez (Danny Diaz), Johnny Ortiz (Jose Cardenas), Sergio Avelar (Victor Puentes), Rafael Martinez (David Diaz), Hector Duran (Johnny Sameniego), and Michael Aguero (Damacio Diaz).
McFarland, USA has its share of cliches, particularly its messages of racial harmony and not underestimating the potential of the individual.
Rated PG, McFarland, USA has its share of cliches, particularly its messages of racial harmony and not underestimating the potential of the individual. What makes the movie stand out is that the boys are treated as real individuals with a strong work ethic derived from back-breaking toil picking produce under the hot sun. They are responsible for keeping up their grades and helping their families well before Jim White enters their lives. The boys aren’t low-lifes or thugs and White isn’t the Great White Savior out to rescue them from lives of crime and drugs and bring them a new set of values. White and the boys are portrayed on equal footing. While he channels their previously untapped talent, he learns as much from his team as they learn from him.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray edition include reflections by Kevin Costner, Coach Jim White, and members of the 1987 cross-country team as they look back on the opportunities they were given; “Juntos” music video; deleted and extended scenes; and the features “Inspiring McFarland.”