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Film Review: McFarland, USA

One year after Disney’s Million Dollar Arm, the company demonstrates its cinematic skills with its latest underdog sports film endeavor, McFarland, USA. The dynamic combination of great acting and a whole lot of heart may just have audiences leaving theaters with an unexpected case of the feels.

Directed by Niki Caro, McFarland, USA is based on the true story of a 1987 novice cross-country team and their struggle to become championship contenders. The team, which is from a small and predominately Latino farming community, must also overcome social and economic challenges in order to reach their goal.

Enter Coach Jim White, played by Kevin Costner, who is tasked with getting these boys competition ready. From his attitude to his background and even his name, “White’s” outsider status makes for an unexpected partnership. Costner’s portrayal of a humbled outsider with a bit of a temper is arguably one of his best yet.

However, the hilarious and heartwarming relationships that develop as a result are what make this sports film a must see.

The film begins with a tense scene in a football locker room, where Coach White attempts to give a tough, yet motivational pep talk to his team. But an altercation occurs instead.

And just like that White is out of a job and on the road to McFarland.

It is obvious the moment the White family arrives in McFarland that they do not fit in. This is accentuated in the film’s script written by Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson. It consistently pokes fun at cultural stereotypes with jokes and subtle innuendos.

“Daddy are we in Mexico?” White’s youngest daughter, played by Elsie Fisher, asks on the family’s move in day.

Another moment occurs while White takes role during a physical education class on his first day at the high school.

“Diaz, is that a popular name where you guys come from?” White says as he reads the names of the three Diaz brothers on the attendance sheet.

However, what this reviewer believes sets McFarland apart from other sports films is its multi-dimensional storylines about the runners. The audience learns about Danny (Ramiro Rodriguez), David (Rafael Martinez) and Damacio (Michael Aguero) Diaz’s lives as field pickers and Thomas Valles’ (Carlos Pratts) interest in higher education that conflicts with his father’s views.

These moments humanize the boys and allow viewers to connect emotionally, instead of simply focusing on White’s struggle to assimilate.

Also noteworthy is the film’s cinematography by Adam Arkapaw. The cross-country meets are intensified by breathtaking shots of Palo Alto hills and California’s Central Valley. Scenes that could have easily been too cliché, like the first time the team sees the ocean, are visually stunning and heartwarming.

Colombian musician and two-time Grammy winner Juanes also enhances this feeling as well as other core themes such as family and teamwork in the film with his song “Juntos” or “together” in Spanish.

Running at 129 minutes, McFarland takes viewers on an inspirational journey unlike any other as an underdog team and their coach race towards a championship.

McFarland, USA premieres in theaters on February 20th.

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Jen Moynihan

Jen Moynihan is in her final year at California State University Fullerton, working toward a Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Political Science. Prior to M.U.S.E., Jen worked as a producer, anchor and reporter for multiple shows at the university’s station, Titan T.V. Jen also enjoys hiking and traveling in her spare time.

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