Disney runs away with your heartstrings by giving us a safe but excellent sports film.
Whether you’re the kid inspiring to be the next cross-country athlete or that old man in the back of the theater crying his eyes out, McFarland USA is a film for everyone. Disney goes back to the old hat and uses the familiar sports drama routine, but McFarland is still able to gain momentum after the first race. We have seen it all before from Cool Runnings to Remember the Titans to Miracle to Glory Road. What all of these sports films have in common is the inspirational “based on a true story” gimmick. From the start, Disney grabs you in and pulls at your emotions.
From there, each film has formed its own path around the coaches' and player's relationship. Each film has grown and matured, which make them unique in their own way. McFarland is fresh by showing the audience new perspective of a different sport … cross-country. This film touched me in a different way, personally, because I am a runner. McFarland’s sense of comfort and lightheartedness gives the film balance. Even when we are fully aware with the style of music and plot turns, the performances are what really matter.
McFarland is the familiar underdog story; it’s 1987 and we meet coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) who is fired from his job in Boise, Idaho as a football coach. So coach White has to find a new place to coach with his family … McFarland California. McFarland is an economically challenged community and has been for a longtime. This poor community of mostly Hispanic populace is a total culture shock for the White family. Not long after setting up in McFarland, coach White realizes that football will not workout for him so he decides to start up a cross-country team for the high school.
When Costner isn’t eating ice cream in Aspen, he’s probably coaching his runners up those hills. What made this film so impactful were the performances from seven cross-country runners (Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, Michael Aguero, Rafael Martinez and Ramiro Rodriguez). Costner also gets a thumbs up for his grizzly coaching performance. McFarland works by its talented director (Niki Caro, Whale Rider), fun energy and likable presence. It also shows just how hard of a sport cross-country truly is. Trust me, running everyday mile after mile can be a real bitch at times.
McFarland is an absolute tearjerker, as we see these boys go from losers to winners throughout the season. This sport not only helped them gain confidence in themselves, but also in their education. As coach White pushes each of them to strive for greatness, they also reflect on their character. McFarland is nothing more than a feel good movie and when you see Danny (Rodriguez) sprint towards the finish line to help out his fellow teammates you will tear up, I guarantee it. So take this inspirational journey with these compassionate runners. McFarland came, ran and conquered. Bravo Disney.
McFarland USA is rated PG (Parental Guidance). For thematic material, some violence and language.