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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Movie Review - McFarland, USA

McFarland, USA (2015)
Starring Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Carlos Pratts, Michael Aguero, Rafael Martinez, Ramiro Rodriguez, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, and Johnny Ortiz
Directed by Niki Caro

McFarland, USA should have been nothing more than a stereotypical sports movie where a downtrodden coach comes to a down-on-their-luck team and turns things around.  We've seen this story before...many, many times.  Yet, thanks to a heartwarming performance from Kevin Costner, a well cast group of unknown actors as the McFarland High School track team, and a sentimental story that is somehow told without being overly treacly or sugary by director Niki Caro and a trio of screenwriters, McFarland, USA is a sleeper hit that hopefully more people will come to appreciate in years to come.

A true story, McFarland, USA doesn't reinvent any wheel, but what it does well is create an atmosphere of warmth and old-fashioned values that would brighten up even the cruelest of hearts.  Costner is Jim White, a Midwest high school football coach who gets fired after an understandable lapse in judgment causes him to do something he knows he shouldn't have done to one of his players.  Desperate for a job, Jim moves his wife Cheryl (Maria Bello) and his two daughters to McFarland, California, a small town wherein the majority of the population is Latino.  With Jim and his family sticking out like sore thumbs, Jim finds himself not quite fitting in as the assistant football coach either and is soon relegated to teaching a gym class during which he notices that several of the students have an affinity towards running.  This being the 1980s, California high schools were just on the cusp of allowing cross country racing to be an option for their students and Jim convinces the McFarland High administration to give him a chance coaching a team.  Never easy, Jim and his students struggle both on the track and off as they all grow to become better individuals.

I have to think that part of the reason for the success of McFarland, USA for this blogger anyway is due to the fact that I was expecting nothing from the film whatsoever.  Lowered expectations (or, quite frankly, no expectations) certainly aided its upward trajectory for me.  However, the film is also pretty darn good.  Costner is a staple of sports movies, but here he's a considerate coach who genuinely cares about the well-being of his family and his students.  Coping with the notion that he is responsible for moving his family away from a huge Midwestern house in which they'd settled for years, Costner's White is gruff and angry, but there's a heart at his core that gradually reveals itself when he realizes that he's providing an outlet for underprivileged Latino students to find success.  Kudos also must go out to the group of actors playing those students, most of whom are making their theatrical debuts with this film.  Together, they manage to individualize their personalities in ways I wasn't expecting -- which is also a credit to a nice script and a director in Niki Caro who allows a variety of storylines to all get their due without ever making one feel less important than another.

There's a "basicness" to McFarland, USA that some viewers may not be able to take.  To me, though, this simplicity allows for the true story to really shine through, creating a film that emphasizes a culture we don't often see displayed in mainstream films while also making a movie that really appeals to all generations of viewers.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

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