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RevivalMag was invited to a pre-screening of Disney's McFarland, USA, but we've been a bit remiss in getting our review up. Forgive us for the delay, everyone, here it is!
McFarland, USA, staring Kevin Costner, is Disney's latest forey into sports drama films. Disney's prior experience with sports films covers the gamut from Remember The Titans, to the Air Bud series, and thankfully McFarland comes in closer to the former than the latter. The film follows the true story of a high school cross country running team from McFarland, an impoverished, Hispanic fruit growing town in central California. Costner plays Jim White, the real-life coach of the team, who led them to victory in 9 out of 14 state-wide cross country championships (if I remember correctly). McFarland is a family film that you can feel safe bringing along anyone from the age of 7 or 8 up.
The central drama lies in the daily life of the boys on the running team; the fruit fields are the primary source of work for all the families in McFarland, and work is by necessity more important than school or sport. Each family is doing their best to survive, and each field picked is more on the table. Coach White (yes, that's his real name, as is made fun of on screen) notices that some of the boys run to and from work and school, and are naturally in great physical shape. This provides his inspiration for forming a running team, and they set their goal on the first ever statewide running championship. This forms the basic frame of the story, and the rest is filled out with some intra-family conflict for some of the boys on the team, and the White family's attempts to fit in with the community. This is family fare, but there is just enough poverty-related grittiness to bring an air of realism to the story, and remind us that actually, a Disney film centered on Mexican runners in California probably wouldn't have happened even 10 years ago.
There's not much spirituality on display here, aside from some requisite prayer before games and thanksgiving afterward. The real-life Jim White was at the screening I went to, and I he told me that he was definitely a man of strong faith himself, but that little of it made it onto the screen. Still, the film is clean throughout, uplifting, and comes to a satisfyingly emotional (if somewhat predictable) finale. At just over 2 hours long it may be a little lengthy for younger audience members, and the story pace is slow (unlike the onscreen runners). As a runner myself, there was just enough enthusiasm for the sport to keep me interested; the White's family journey and the boys' achievement of their goals is the real heart of the story.
In real life, the Whites have had a huge impact on McFarland, and all of the boys on that running team (and many others on subsequent teams) went on to post-secondary schooling, which was a first for most of their families. For that reason alone, it's worth taking a trip out to see how things began, and enjoy a surprisingly pleasant, entirely clean family film.
McFarland, USA opened in theatres on February 20th.
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