Review: McFarland USA
PLOT:A cross country coach attempts to turn a small group of unlikely athletes into champions.
Even if you are unaware of the inspiring true story behind MCFARLAND, USA, not a single moment will be a surprise. The new film, set in 1987, about a Latino cross country track team is a feel good story about never giving up, and it works. Not unlike the recent MILLION DOLLAR ARM - another Disney sports flick - you cant help but root for these improbable athletes. And by placing Kevin Costner as the head coach who leads them on their journey, it is almost like watching an old friend overcome certain odds. As predictable as it may be, this is an entertaining flick that goes down easy. Much like the scrappy team on which it is based, you cant help but want to cheer it on until the final act.
Kevin Costner stars as Jim White, a coach who must accept an assistant football coaching job after an altercation with a student. Packing up his wife Cheryl (Maria Bello) and young daughters, he finds himself facing serious culture shock in a predominantly Latino community and high school. Once there, he accepts an impossible job, to coach a track team to victory. While the students seem to have already accepted their future of picking crops and other assorted jobs, he discovers a group of young men with the talent for speed. And with every sports montage, we see this group led by the teams brightest star Thomas (Carlos Pratts), continue to get better and better. With assorted obstacles, including family and the need to put food on the table, Coach White and the community try their best to make this team championship contenders.
It seems the older Costner gets the better his performances are. Of course he has always felt right at home in sports themed movies. This is certainly not an exception. As a coach who believes in the unlikely young athletes, yet falters when it comes to his own daughters, there is once again an everyman charm in his presence. And while Maria Bello doesnt have quite as much time to shine, she is perfectly cast as the supportive wife who still questions her husbands commitment to his own family. Both actors work beautifully together and help create a very sympathetic couple trying to get by and make a better life.
The real stars of course are the young actors including Pratts, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, Rafael Martinez, Ramiro Rodriguez among others. If we as an audience didnt root for them, all would be lost. It isnt that their performances are all that spectacular - Pratts has the most compelling role - yet director Niki Caro manages to create a very believable group of kids just trying to do something with their lives. Its almost a shame that the other athletes which they face off against are just stereotypical jerk rivals. Clearly we are cheering for the McFarland USA boys, but it would have been nice to see a little range with the opposing high schools.
One thing that was a bit refreshing here was the fact that this fish out of water fable was not overdramatized with racism issues. Sure there are hints of generalization, but it is definitely geared towards the family with its PG rating. In one sequence, Coach White allows his daughter Julie (Morgan Saylor) to venture out with Thomas and a few others after he is convinced to give her a quinceañera - a Latin America birthday celebration if you are unaware. You can bet that there is a little aftermath of violence, but very little. However, there is enough here to create a bit of conversation for younger viewers who may need good guidance. This is a family film through and through, but it is one that offers a nice lesson in never giving up on yourself, or those that you care about.
MCFARLAND USA is a pleasant film that manages to make your heart swell up a bit. The characters are engaging, and Costner is really solid as a Coach discovering inspiration from his athletes as well as his family. And while it is a very nice film, it isnt as overtly sentimental as it sounds. The Latino culture is successfully explored and the young runners are as charismatic as youd hope. Sure youll see every move beforehand, but Niki Caro has made a solid film about working together and never giving up. This isnt going to reinvent the genre, and it really didnt need to. What it does achieve is a nice couple of hours of examining how you can achieve beyond what you think you are capable of.
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