I approached the film McFarland, USA with some skepticism, fearing it could be 129 minutes of stereotype wrapped up in a “feel good” sport movie geared towards white Americans.
At first, I felt uneasy about the topic. Beyond the tried-and-true sport movie plot line, there was a lot at stake here. The delicate divide between racial disdain and realistic storytelling could have been crossed at any moment.
Jim White (Kevin Costner) is the film’s main protagonist. Aptly named, he is a white American who ends up in the predominantly Hispanic town of McFarland. Based on a true story about White leading a cross-country high school team to victory, I worried Costner’s character would overshadow and dominate the story. But it didn’t.
McFarland depicts the true lives of young Mexican American high school students and their struggle with poverty and finding the motivation to reach their dreams, while simultaneously showcasing the difficulty White encounters with understanding an entirely different culture.
This struggle unfolds poignantly, prompting both groups to find solidarity, understanding, and acceptance.
I felt a deep connection to these characters. I found myself crying real tears in a few parts. To say this movie is about a coach and his team of runners trying to win is to grossly oversimplify things.
I cared about the characters. I wanted to see them win. What they did to win was just the vehicle for this suite of characters to grow, change, adapt and find purpose.
This movie feels whole: in having several characters, each with separate plots, McFarland balances them out, giving the audience a chance to know each of them. This makes the film something the audience could invest in and emotionally interact with.
As the characters struggle, the viewer does too. Beyond the obvious racial themes, this film questions the notion of home, family, and equality. In what could have been a lifeless adaptation of the American dream turns out to be original and motivational.
The film takes the best of an against-all-odds storyline, and blends it artistically with an original and worthy story. Talented director Niki Caro and an equally gifted cast bring the truly inspirational story of McFarland and its victories to life.
McFarland, USA totally scores big points for actually being an honest, inspirational, and challenging film. It successfully revamps the idea of chasing the American dream in the face of overwhelming odds and reminds us that “champions can come from anywhere.”