Wednesday, February 18, 2015

McFarland: Movie Review

Easy to cheer for underdogs.

Disney's latest inspirational true underdog story and Kevin Costner's latest sports drama are one in the same. McFarland is actually pretty high on the inspiration and the additional family drama element provides some fun and nice humour. Set in McFarland, California in 1987, Costner stars as Jim White, a down-on-his-luck football coach who has nowhere else to go except this dirt poor southern town filled with perennially out-of-luck students. 2015

Directed by: Niki Caro

Screenplay and Story by: Grant Thompson, Bettina Gilois and Christopher Cleveland

Starring: Kevin Costner, Maria Bello

There's a significant clash of cultures story here with the White family moving from Idaho to a small Spanish-speaking, poor, hard-working Californian community. There's some decent humour as the White family is introduced to a new way of life. The southern and Mexican flair provides an up-beat backdrop to the story about a group of kids who don't have it easy and are fighting an uphill battle just to see a better future.

Serving as PE teacher, White notices these under-sized kids getting badly beaten on the football field but then run home to work for their families. Run from fields to home to school to produce farms to more farmers' fields. These kids work hard and can run. So White has to go about convincing these kids to join his newly-founded cross country running team.

To them it's a white kids' sport and they have better things to do with their time. But from the aspiring criminals that most of them are, White can trick them into joining instead of getting suspended. And then there's Danny Diaz, the fat kid who isn't a fast runner but wants to be on the team. There are a lot of fat jokes at Danny's expense but it all seems to be in good humour since Danny is a welcomed member on the team.

There are exactly seven members on the team, some get more screen time than the others but we do know all of their names and the final segment of the movie is a nice touch finishing the story for all seven of them. The main kid, the fastest, and the quarter-back of the team if you will, is Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) who's just as quick to get in fights and has a volatile father keeping him from the team. Pratts is the most accomplished actor among the kids and has a suspenseful moment early on and then even gets the romantic storyline. In a nice touch, a number of the other kids are played by actual McFarland High School students.

Most of the issues plaguing this underprivileged community like crime and poverty are kept on the back-burner. Which is a necessity to keep the film light and fun and inspirational. Director Niki Caro has kept the film very straight-forward; it's very simple and clean. Some of the family drama moments with White's wife and daughters are predictable and cheesy, but then we switch focus back to the kids of McFarland who very easy to root for.

Similar Titles:

Draft Day (2014) - Costner’s back on his game, and it’s enjoyable if not predictable.

4 Minute Mile (2014) - Good characters can't outrun heavy drama.