I love underdog sports movies. The emotional journey is always a rollercoaster ride, and there is forever a light at the end of the tunnel (that isn’t a train). The film “McFarland, USA” reaches into our California consciousness even deeper, as we all travel past the migrant workers picking in the fields every day.
I am taken by the sight and have written pages of prose about it, but being a spoiled white woman, I knew nothing of their plight. This movie gives us a heart-wrenching and honest view of their lives.
Director Niki Caro tells the true story of Jim White. His well-assembled cast of new comers, anchored by Kevin Coaster, makes for a compelling telling of his tale.
White is a washed up high school football coach, who is at a career low point. After losing his job following a ridiculous outburst, he moves his family to a cracker-box house, in a poor neighborhood in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
He has procured a last-chance teaching position at McFarland High School. Not surprising, this “White” makes a poor first impression with everyone. White soon takes notice of a group of Latino teenagers with a talent for running and stamina developed after years of grueling work, picking crops both before and after school to help support their families.
With the principle’s support, he decides to start a cross country team, built around the super-fast, Thomas Valles (played by Carlos Pratts). With not one person on the team knowing anything about long distance running or even track, they are willing to put in the effort. After a few practices, White begins believing that his team has the potential to qualify for the first-ever State Championship Meet.
The actors are mostly unknown and do a noble effort of conveying the emotional journey from hopeless to hopeful through their commitment to cross country competition.
Costner as the coach does a decent job showing his evolution from dictatorial, the flawed mentor, angry coach with privileged athletes in a middle class culture to inspirational father figure for immigrant Hispanic kids who have the endurance to help their families as pickers in agricultural community, while attending school at same time. He’s not perfect and the goal is “together we will make it and you will fix me as much as I’ll fix you,” and it works for Costner.
This is also a story about community. The athletes are from the poor side of the tracks, not the wrong side of the tracks, which puts a spin on that stereotypical kid who comes from a family of gang bangers.
It was interesting to see how tight this small town was and how they embraced the White family. This movie is highly motivating for all, especially middle and high school students. So get your family to the Fairoaks Theater and see it together!
Teri Bayus can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her writings and ramblings at: www.teribayus.com. Bayus is also the host of “Taste Buds,” a moving picture rendition of her reviews shown on Charter Channel 10. Dinner and a Movie is a regular feature of Tolosa Press.com.