MCFARLAND USA – A Review by John Strange

By: John ‘Doc’ Strange
Directed by: Niki Caro
Cast: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Elsie Fisher, Vincent Martella
MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic material, some violence and language)
Selig Rating FULL PRICE
Runtime: 128 Min.
Jim White (Kevin Costner) is a football coach whose temper has lost him some good positions over the years.  Each job loss has worn away at his job prospects, each failure to control his temper building upon the next until he has reduced his options to either taking a job as an assistant football coach and teacher in a very small California town with a predominately Mexican-American population or changing careers.
In McFarland, California a large part of the population make their living as agricultural workers.  Because of this, the median income is very low.  When the White family arrives in town, they are taken back by what they see.  It is obvious that the home available to them is in a neighborhood they would not have chosen for themselves.  The neighborhood looks a bit run down and (to them) dangerous.
The school is not what Jim was prepared for, either.  The school is clean but nothing like the schools he has worked in up to this point.  His first meeting with the Principal Camillo (Valente Rodriguez) is friendly but Jim is forced to face the fact that he had better try hard to get along because he doesn’t have many choices left. 
The head football coach isn’t happy to have someone who can challenge him working with the team.  When Jim tries to pull a young player, injured during the game, he is overridden.  The next day he loses his coaching position.
He is beside himself trying to figure out what he can do.  Without the additional funds that the coaching position brings in, his family’s welfare is endangered.  He continues to teach his classes while he mulls over his options.
While this is going on, his wife, Cheryl (Maria Bello), is trying to get the household setup and their two girls, Julie (Morgan Saylor) and Jamie (Elsie Fisher) settled.  The girls settle in better than their parents.  From the lady raising chickens next door to the local car club, everywhere they look there is something else they don’t quite understand.
Then one day while driving Jim to work at the school, he sees one of the students running cross country from the field where he was working to get to class.  Over the next few days he thinks about what he saw and does a bit of research including timing the runs.  He goes to Principal Camillo to get authorization to start a cross country track team.  His boss tells him they can’t afford to cover the costs.  He shows the principal that track teams fall under the same coverage as football teams.  And the state has begun a new competition which will end with a state champion.
Given the go ahead to attempt to build a team, Jim must find seven students willing to make up the team. At first the boys are skeptical but eventually he gets the team built.  The new track team begins to gel slowly.  At their first track meet the team losses badly.  Jim has to learn better strategies to teach the team.  His training regimen bears no relation to what other schools use, but it works for these boys.
As the team begins to learn and excel at the sport, the family begins to find their place in the community.  And eldest daughter Julie finds love.  She and team captain, Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) begin dating.  As the track season progresses and the wins begin to come in, the community gets behind them. 
For the first time in years, the school has a team that knows what it feels like to win.  The families and community get together to help raise the funds to outfit the team in better uniforms and shoes than Jim had been able to provide on his own. 
The team and the community become a huge part of the White family’s lives.  When Julie turns 15, the neighbors and families in the community throw a Quinceanera for her. But all is not sweetness and light.  When Thomas and Julie go for a traditional ride around the neighborhood, the car club is set upon by a rival car club and there are injuries.  While this incident ends the party on a sour note, the good will between everyone continues to grow.
This film is the story of a man who finds the purpose for which he was placed upon this earth and the school and its students who benefit from said purpose.  This is a story of a team, a school, and a community who had to learn to believe in themselves and to win.  Jim White went on to lead the team to seven state titles between 1987 and 2000. 
This is the type of film they need to show to every scholastic team.  They will see a team that built themselves from nothing to take on the best teams in their state and win.  This is also a wonderful testament to the American spirit.
The Selig Rating Scale:
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.
GET YOUR TORCHES – BAD! – Burn the script, the writer, the director and maybe even the actors!
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