McFarland, USA Parent Review
Though Disney did successfully capture the spirit of the underdog, the script may have actually underplayed the amazing achievements of Jim White's runners from "McFarland, USA".
Google “best high school football movies” and you can easily come up with a couple dozen films like Remember the Titans, The Blind Side and Friday Night Lights. Google “best high school cross country running movies” and you get…well…you get a 2008 documentary called The Long Green Line. Even high school wrestlers get more screen time than high school runners.
Director Niko Caro (Whale Rider, North Country) changes that and turns the camera on the sport of distance running in McFarland, USA. In the movie, Jim White (Kevin Costner) is a high school teacher and coach who lets his temper flare up way too often. After losing his job in Boise, his only option is to move his family to McFarland, California where he gets a position in a high school beleaguered with poverty, teen pregnancy and gangs. Unable to afford to commute from a nicer neighborhood, Jim, his wife Cheryl (Maria Bello) and their daughters Julie and Jamie (Morgan Saylor, Elsie Fisher) move into the middle of the predominantly Hispanic community where many of the locals work as crop harvesters. The other main employer in town is a prison.
Jim is hired to teach physical education and life science, but his goal is to put in just enough time to repair his resume and get a better job at a more prestigious school. However in P.E. class, Jim, who sits in the bleachers and barks out orders to run laps, notices how fast some of his students are—even after working in the fields before coming to school. It’s then he asks the principal to let him organize a cross-country team. The principal is hesitant—understandably. Jim White isn’t even a runner. But he finally agrees if for no other reason than to get Jim out of his office. However persuading the boys’ parents is even harder. Many of the students are working in the fields by age 10 to help support their families. Letting their boys give up time in the fields to practice running doesn’t make sense, especially after the team takes dead last at their first meet.
Like any studio, Disney has had some hits and misses over the years. But sports movies seem to be one genre where the studio consistently captures the spirit of the underdog, the incredible work ethnic needed to succeed and the strength of a team. Yet in this case the script may have actually underplayed
Although all of the “facts” may not be accurate, this movie depicts the taxing individual effort it takes to compete in an endurance sport where running fast is less important than running fast for a long time. The script also explores the disparity between the McFarland runners and their competitors from much wealthier school districts. Like any sport, the playing field isn’t always level. While it takes away from the harsh reality of life in this small town, those imbalances, that include crime, impoverishment and domestic abuse, are glossed over in the story making the film more accessible to a much wider and younger audience.
Rather the script focuses on Coach White, who learns to love these boys. He also understands that athletic achievements can lead to academic accomplishments. With that in mind, he does more than just push the boys on the race course. And the results? Well, they are remarkable.Directed by Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor. Starring Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Vincent Martella. Running time: 129 minutes. Theatrical release February 20, 2015. Updated May 18, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in McFarland, USA here.
McFarland, USA Parents Guide
Note: McFarland, USA is known as McFarland in Canada.
Talk about the movie with your family…
How does Coach White’s attitude toward the boys change during the course of the movie? How does his view of the boys change after he spends the day working in the fields with them?
How is the Hispanic culture portrayed in this film? What are the positive things? What are the negative things? How does Cheryl’s attitude change toward her neighbors after her car breaks down? In what ways do the members of the community reach out to the coach and his family?
How can athletic success lead to academic opportunities? What actions does the coach take to help the boys better themselves?
If you would like to take up cross-country running, here are a few steps to get you started. You can also check with your school or look for local running groups to join.
From the Studio: Inspired by the 1987 true story, “McFarland” follows high school coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), whose job-hopping leads him to predominantly Latino McFarland High School, located in an agricultural community in California’s farm-rich Central Valley. Jim knows he has to make this school his last stop—he’s out of options, with both his career and his family and finds himself in a diverse, economically-challenged community that feels worlds apart from his previous hometowns. Admittedly, the White family and the students have a lot to learn about each other but when Coach White notices the boys’ exceptional running ability, things begin to change. Soon something beyond their physical gifts impresses White—the power of family relationships, their unwavering commitment to one another and their incredible work ethic. With grit and determination, Coach White’s unlikely band of runners eventually overcomes the odds to forge not only a championship cross-country team but an enduring legacy as well. Along the way, Jim and his family realize that they finally found a place to call home and both he and his team achieve their own kind of American dream. Disney’s “McFarland” stars Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Carlos Pratts, Morgan Saylor, Martha Higareda, Valente Rodriguez, Vanessa Martinez, Chris Ellis, Johnny Ortiz, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar, Michael Aguero, Rafael Martinez and Ramiro Rodriguez and is directed by Niki Caro with screenplay by Grant Thompson. Gordon Gray and Mark Ciardi are producing, with Mario Iscovich and Mary Martin serving as executive producers. “McFarland” releases February 20, 2015. - Walt Disney Pictures