McFarland, USA – A Movie Review

mcfarlandRun, don’t walk. Run right now to see McFarland, USA before it’s out of theaters. If you already missed it, be sure to write yourself a note IN VERY BIG LETTERS that you want to stream or rent it as soon as you can.

The movie is that good.

I’ve noted before that I am a Kevin Costner fan. I truly think that he’s underrated as an actor and the narrative that he “only plays himself” in every movie is simply lazy thinking. However, I’ll say this: if it’s true that Costner only plays himself, it turns out I really, really like who he is.

He’s well suited to the role as Jim White, a fallen high school football coach who, with no prospects, must pick up and move his family to McFarland, California, a town populated primarily by migrant workers. Following an incident when a player was injured in a football game he was coach, White’s is untouchable and only McFarland High School is desperate enough to hire him. And even then, they hire him as an assistant football coach.

After a run-in with the head football coach, White loses even that job and his world begins to fall even further to pieces. With his family of a wife (Maria Bello who makes a nice impression in fairly limited screen time) and two daughters questioning their new lives in McFarland, White stumbles upon a secret: these children of migrant workers he’s teaching are tough and hardened and run very fast. Now we have our movie.

It could be that simple, but, somehow, it’s not. As I was watching the film – watching Costner develop great rapport with the young actors playing his runners, watching this White family struggle to fit in as minorities when they’d always considered themselves the majority – I thought, there is a message here that is far more important than perseverance in sports leads to perseverance in life and isn’t that a good thing. There is a message about stereotypes and race, about families and extended families, about cultures that don’t clash just because they are thrown together in unexpected ways.

McFarland, USA was released after Costner’s Black or White and it seems the actor is drawn, lately, to movies that have something to say. I am aware that he took a big financial risk and invested some of his own money in Black or White, an investment which didn’t pay off financially for him as the movie didn’t resonate with audiences. It seems that movie wouldn’t have been made without his dollars. Similarly, it’s hard to imagine McFarland, USA without him headlining.

Kevin Costner has a manner about him, a sheepishness that he seems to be able to draw out of himself, that stands in contrast to his weathered good looks and his practiced, heroic outward confidence. Broken and confused, Costner’s Jim White must provide for a family that he feels he’s let down, learn a culture that he really doesn’t want to have anything with which to do and make a decision that will, ultimately, impact more lives than just his own. The actor sells the role, creates sympathy and empathy and carries the film.

It’s a Disney movie and one knows what to expect because of that very fact. It doesn’t go to very dark places and it doesn’t need to do so. McFarland, USA conveys its message without blaring it. It presents characters without making them stereotypes. It grounds itself in the real world, especially during its credits. It’s well worth your time.

I am a sucker for sports movies and, as it is surely one, McFarland, USA hits all the right notes. I am a sucker for Kevin Costner movies and the actor does not disappoint. I am a sucker for movies that make me feel good. On this count, McFarland, USA definitely delivers.

McFarland, USA receives FOUR “COUGERS” out of a possible FIVE.


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Filed under Kevin Costner, McFarland USA, Movie Review

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