If there was anything I hated more then P.E. class, it was running the track. Nowadays I probably wouldn’t complain as much, but being a fifteen year old was something else. I was overweight in my youth and that made me out to be a slow kid on the track. Each morning (or afternoon in my senior year), after we change into our gear, our teacher would have us finish four laps, gaining a full mile under our feet. We weren’t required to run those laps, but still, nobody wanted to walk it as they would never hear the end of the ridiculing. I did my best to jog them, but nothing would have persuaded me to do a marathon.
My biggest question when running the track was simply, “how can those guys manage to run five miles and barley crack a sweat?” Even when I pass a group while driving, I still can’t understand their strength. Perhaps it’s not just the training. It has to be the psychological core as well that needed to be develop. The kind of kids that participate in cross country training also tend to exceed well in academics and go on to Ivy league schools. For a lot of schools, this is probably the case, but for the team in McFarland, USA, it’s a different situation.
In 1987, high school football coach Jim White (played by Kevin Costner) has anger issues that cause him to job hop many times. An incident with a player getting his head cut causes the most damage to his career, leaving him with little options. He settles for a life science/coaching job in the Latino town of McFarland, CA. Most of the residents either own farms or work on those farms, with many of the high school kids working as fruit pickers in the morning and day.
White, his wife Cheryl (played by Maria Bello) and two daughters have a hard time fitting into the intimidating community while Jim tries, but can’t seem to help the schools really bad football team. While coaching P.E., he notices that the boys are very fast runners, with a young man Thomas Valles clocking in at twelve miles an hour. White decides that the boys are right for cross-country running, despite that the school doesn’t have a team. The principal approves and White learns more about the sport while teaching these kids about good ethics and how they can achieve in anything…your typical sports stuff.
On paper, McFarland, USA sounds like every other sports story and it does follow the formula pretty safely. You’ve got your bad boys that are likely going to learn their lessons, the coach that will change himself and the kids, and the town is going to laugh at the crazy idea until it works. This movie has all of that, yet I still recommend this.
What won me over firsthand is the sport being shown, cross-country running. It’s repetitive to watch, but the film plays it’s California environment to its advantage and the running actually looks good with the hills and farms that each competition is running around.
McFarland, the small town in question, reveals to have a lot of personality. We learn very early on that the folk here are resilient, but can come together to show homeliness. The cinematography has fallen in love for this place as the movie looks beautiful. The kids aren’t as well developed, and the film could have been more moving had it been from their perspective, but Costner does well in his spot as coach Jim White.
I’ll give this four running shoes out of five. I was reminded heavily of Remember the Titans, another Disney sports story that I liked. There’s little new here in terms of sport movies, but McFarland, USA has a lot of charm and gumption to prove otherwise. It’s not for those that are tired of the sports movie cliché, but the rest might be surprised.
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