Kevin Costner stars in director Niki Caro’s (Whale Rider) sports drama McFarland, USA, which tells the true story of how a high-school cross-country team made of children from poor, Hispanic migrant families beat the odds at the 1987 California State Championships. Though the underdog sports genre may be a little oversaturated, overtures of racial tension and socio-economic disadvantages faced by Latin-Americans guarantee McFarland, USA more originality and success than many of its peers.
Costner plays Jim White, a sports coach forced to accept a lowly PE teacher position in McFarland after violently losing his temper with a bratty football player. He moves across country to the impoverished Californian town with his less than enthusiastic family. Though his new football team prove a lost cause, White notices a talent for running among his predominantly Mexican-American students and begins to set up a cross-country team. The formulaic plot sees White’s team working their way to a place at the State Championship while the (literally) White family is absorbed into the Mexican-American community, in spite of initial uncertainties.
The central, potentially problematic tale of a sacrificial white man coming to the rescue of downtrodden minorities is unfortunately emphasised at times by some tired dialogue and clichéd characters. One strength of the film is the egalitarian approach taken towards the characterisation of the runners: although there is still an archetypical hero on the team, the narrative doesn’t run away with his story at the expense of the others’. There are instances of a dissatisfying underutilisation of some characters. Teacher Maria Marisol, who encourages White to commit himself fully to his disadvantaged students, largely disappears and resurfaces only to congratulate White for turning the boys’ lives around. With no motivation explored with her own character, the role feels tokenistic and insubstantial. All together though, McFarland, USA is a comforting, uplifting and inspirational drama, portraying how community spirit and big heart can trump the typical obsessions of the American dream.
McFarland, USA is released nationwide on 25th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for McFarland, USA here: