Thursday, March 12, 2015

Movie Review #229: "McFarland, USA" (2015)

Movie"McFarland, USA"
Director: Niki Caro
Rating: PG
Running Time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
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After being fired from his coaching and teaching job in Idaho for throwing a shoe at a mouthy football player, Jim White (Kevin Costner) is forced to move his family to McFarland, CA, which is the only city where he can find a job. He is hired on as a life science teacher and assistant football coach. After butting heads with the head football coach over a potentially concussed student, he is asked to step down as the assistant. Many of the students at the school work as produce pickers before and after school and on the weekends to help provide for their families. When White sees them running to and from the fields every day, he decides to start a cross country running team to hopefully compete for the first state championship.

Another inspirational sports film put out by Disney? Color us shocked! "McFarland, USA" is your basic, by the book and super formulaic inspirational underdog sports film. Much like "Million Dollar Arm" last year, this film deals with the culture clash of a white coach and athletes from a different background. Last year, Jon Hamm dealt with boys from India who were brought to the US to play baseball, and this year, Kevin Costner, after being kicked out of his previous school for bad behavior, coaches boys who are Mexican and runners. The White family shows up in McFarland and gets struck by a big culture shock, everything from chickens running around their yard to chulos driving low riders down the main street. Oh no, whatever shall they do as they try to go out for burgers only to get tacos or burritos?! Having grown up in Southern California, personally, we would take a good carne asada or pollo asado burrito over a burger any day of the week. The Whites were ready to leave as soon as they roll into town, but like all of these inspirational types of movies, they begin to make friends and start to understand the "other" culture, as well as grow to like it. From there, we are treated to a really, really long and cliche-ridden drama as Jim starts to sacrifice his family life for his coaching job. On her 15th birthday, he forgets to pick up his daughter Julie's birthday cake and is late for her birthday dinner. Aw shucks. The boys who want to be part of the cross country team have to find a way to balance working in the fields, help supporting their families, going to school and running on the team. As the film progresses and the boys start to make headlines and ruffle feathers with how good they are getting, Jim is offered a better job at a richer, more technologically advanced school and has to choose between making a difference but staying in McFarland, or moving to Palo Alto and not having the same close-knit community they have come to enjoy there. This is all the same familiar song we hear time and time again, but we still get suckered into liking it because it has a catchy beat. Kevin Costner has made it his mission lately to either be in sports related movies or films that are based on true stories. He is not bad here, but he's not that memorable, either. At least with "Spare Parts," the "hero" of the story was not another in a long line of movies with a white savior as its protagonist. On the flip side, the standouts of the film by far were the boys on the running team, played by Ramiro Rodriguez, Carlos Pratts, Johnny Ortiz, Rafael Martinez, Hector Duran, Sergio Avelar and Michael Aguero. With a great amount of doubt, they come together to join Coach White, or Blanco, as they mockingly call him, on a journey of self-discovery, sacrifice, testing their limits and betterment. This film does an excellent job at showing not only their individual struggles, but their struggles as pickers and part of that culture, too. The lives they lead are tough but necessary to them, and the film doesn't shy away from their complicated, rough situation.

As we mentioned, this one runs a little long. It's 2 hours and 9 minutes and feels like it and then some. There could have been 20-40 minutes easily cut from this movie and we could have gotten the same general idea and inspirational story without those extra dragging scenes. In typical "based on a true story" fashion, "McFarland, USA" plays on our human emotions as the team runs their final race and makes you feel for them as we are almost pre-programmed to do. Though the ending is very strong and the story seems quite honest, the road to get to the end can be quite rough.

My Rating: 5.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 5.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 79%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.
One year ago, we were watching: "Non-Stop"

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