McFarland USA Review: Race to the Theater Now

Photo: Disney

I hate running. Let me just get that out of the way first.

My wife’s a fan and has a few 5Ks under her belt, as well as a half marathon. Me? I can barely run 1 mile without getting a massive stitch in my side, resulting in me doubling over and sitting on the grass on the side of the track while toddlers and senior citizens pass right on by.

That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate running, especially in the movies. Heck, one of the best scenes from the Rocky franchise is when he’s running through the streets of Philadelphia with the kids chasing him as he bolts up those steps.

Unless I’m being chased by an angry mob or a T-rex or two, I pretty much give running a pass.

McFARLAND, USA..L to R: Jose Cardenas (Johnny Ortiz), Danny Diaz (Ramiro Rodriguez), Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts), Victor Puentes (Sergio Avelar), Damacio Diaz (Michael Aguero), Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), Johnny Sameniego (Hector Duran) and David Diaz (Rafael Martinez)..Ph: Ron Phillips..?Disney 2015

Which is why I’m shocked how much I enjoyed the new Kevin Costner film McFarland USA. It’s a “you can do it!” inspirational tale of a down on his luck coach, Jim White (played by Costner) who suddenly upends his entire family and moves to the poor town of McFarland, California. There, Coach White tries (and often fails) to fit in with the Latino culture of the town and the school.

When the football team fails big time, Coach White goes out on a limb and starts a cross-country running team with seven students from his school. But McFarland is a migrant workers town filled with field after field of crops just ripe for the picking. And that’s just what they do. These kids get up hours before the roosters to join their families out in the fields, picking beans, nuts, cabbages, you name it. All under a hot sun before they have to run off to a full day of school.

It’s exhausting just to think about it.

McFARLAND, USA..L to R: Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts), Jose Cardenas (Johnny Ortiz), Johnny Sameniego (Hector Duran), Damacio Diaz (Jamie Michael Aguero) and Victor Puentes (Sergio Avelar)…Ph: Ron Phillips..?Disney 2015

Without giving anything more away about the plot, I’ll just say that I loved every single part of this movie. The story overall is just fascinating and for the most part, all of the actors are fairly new to the game. That doesn’t mean they can’t act. Far from it. It just means, you get to see a plethora of fantastic, humble and inspiring actors share the screen with a big movie star like Kevin Costner.

And Costner could not have been better cast. The guy is incredibly humble himself, as I learned first hand through my Kevin Costner interview. But his calm, down-to-earth attitude just adds to the realism of the entire film. Director Niki Caro just loved working with Costner.

“He’s one of the great actors,” said Caro. “He’s so handsome.  [LAUGHTER] He’s certainly a bona fide movie star.  If that wasn’t enough he’s a really good director. He’s a mountain of a man. And yet there’s nobody more humble.  I couldn’t have wished for a better partner.  Collaborator.”

McFARLAND, USA..L to R: Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) and David Diaz (Rafael Martinez)..Ph: Ron Phillips..?Disney 2015

There is just so much inspiration throughout this film, I can’t get it across in words. The fact that it’s based on a true story (and I even met the real life inspirational people behind McFarland USA) just pushes my excitement to the next level.

These up-and-coming actors (and they will be big names, just you wait) just meshed perfectly with each other and Costner as well. Nothing seemed forced and you suddenly find yourself rooting for just about everyone in the film.

“The relationship you see on screen is totally genuine,” said Caro. “When I called cut, [Kevin] didn’t go off and get in his trailer.  He was still hanging out with the boys, subtly guiding them, not imposing his will ever on the production or on me.  Despite his experience.”

McFARLAND, USA..Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner)..Ph: Ron Phillips..?Disney 2015

Just because the film’s packed with culture and inspiration doesn’t mean it’s some serious drama. There’s loads of laughs too and just all-around fun whether it’s an all-you-can-eat enchilada dinner, a girlfriend’s painting on a very special type of canvas or an unexpected Quinceanera.

To say McFarland USA has heart may sound a bit corny, but it’s true. And it makes sense, since the very root of the film deals with the hard-working souls out there all day picking the food that ends up on your table at home. In a way, McFarland is the heart of America.

“We’ve made a profoundly American film” revealed Caro. “And that’s amazing to me.  It really is.  It so happens that 99 percent of the people in the movie are Mexican American.  Kevin said something that I’m so moved by and I will carry with me for the rest of my life. He said there is nothing more American than parents wanting more for their children.”

“And I think this movie  gives us a really accurate reminder of the lengths to which parents will go to give their children a better life.  Nothing is more inspiring than that.  And nothing is more American than that.”

In theaters NOW!

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