After watching the film’s trailer, I thought I was going to hate “McFarland, USA.” I really did.
I already knew that the underdog group of minority kids would overcome some sort of adversity to succeed in dramatic fashion with their white savior coach leading the way. Sure enough, the film followed that paint by numbers formula to a tee and there wasn’t a single plot point that I couldn’t see coming a mile away. Oh, and haven’t we seen enough of these white man saving the ethnic kids films by now? Disney just did one last year with “Million Dollar Arm.” Ugh.
But despite the film being as generic and formulaic as it can get, I have to say I left the theater with a smile on my face.
Based on a true story, “McFarland, USA” is the name of a small town in California with a large Mexican population. Kevin Costner plays Jim White, a coach with a mean temper who is forced to relocate there after losing his previous job. Of course there is some culture shock at first with his wife and two daughters having to learn about enchiladas and lowriders but once he discovers a group of kids who can run like the wind, he forms a cross country team that will compete in the first ever state finals.
Costner is always comfortable playing a sports figure and he does a great job with his character but it’s the boys who comprise of the cross-country team who really stand out. Each has their individual personalities and play off them wonderfully, making it so easy to root for them. The standouts are Carlos Pratts as Thomas, the fastest of the group but with the most to prove, and Ramiro Rodriguez as Danny Diaz, the boy who doesn’t know how to quit. Underdog films don’t work if you don’t believe in the heroes and this cast certainly shines with their enthusiasm and passion for life and running.
I was also very happy to see the major inclusion of Mexican culture in the film. This was not about Mexicans learning the white man’s world, but the other way around. With the majority of the film taking place in McFarland, many opportunities are taken to show true Mexican culture such as the strong influence of family, work ethic, religion, and even a celebration called a “quinceanera” which takes place when a young girl turns 15.
Think of “McFarland, USA” as movie comfort food. You know what you’re going to get but will enjoy the hell out of it anyway.