This is an Hispanic version of Hoosiers (1986). Both are emotionally powerful films filled with total joy.
McFarland, USA, a small film with a big heart, will repeatedly leave you with watery eyes as you embrace a loveable group of forgotten high school students. Based on an historical event that took place in McFarland, California, in 1987, the film functions as a cinematic magnet where you form a bond with all of the individuals that you see on the screen.
The film revolves around a high school teacher/football coach who was dismissed from his job in Idaho after losing his cool with several players. Kevin Costner, rediscovering acting skills seldom displayed since the memorable Dances with Wolves (1990), plays our teacher with the ironic name of Jim White. Arriving in McFarland, a community that he immediately discovers to be his version of “Last Chance Gulch”, he feels like a fish out of water. The community is entirely Hispanic, and he worries that he has exposed his wife and two daughters to an environment leading to isolation and destruction.
Additionally, the high school kids don’t relate to Costner’s White any more than he does to them. Attending a high school bordering a state prison, they have little reason to trust their new coach ridiculed with the nickname “white”. That isn’t too hard to understand given that most are forced to pick vegetables in various fields before and after each school day to help their families.
As Costner starts to lose all hope, he discovers that many of the boys have an instinct to run long distances based upon the demands of their daily lives. As a result, he convinces seven of them to initiate a cross country team to simply see if they can compete against other high schools located in prosperous communities. The relationship that Costner forms with his runners ebbs and flows as they all try to find the time to train given the demands of school and work in the fields.
Obviously, the film focuses on qualifying and participating in a state cross country competition, and you already expect a colossally enjoyable ending. Regardless, the angst felt by the boys and their entire community finds a way to leave you wishing that you could vocally cheer for them in the theater.
While Maria Bello gives a meaningful performance in a small role as Costner’s caring wife, this movie centers on our seven cross country runners. These economically poor kids have to not only conquer their own doubts, but also crack through a barrier which includes convincing their families that trusting a white coach has significance.
It is ironic that this film is released at the same time that Republicans in Washington are demanding that our President abandon his efforts to help immigrants who are living in this country peacefully. To listen to President Obama’s opponents, they are apparently quite content to let 12 million Hispanic immigrants make a meager living picking vegetables in the fields so that it won’t cost them much to put it on their dining room table. The sad fact is that most of these families are both God fearing and hardworking, and we have to do something immediately to help them if we claim to be living in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
But don’t get me wrong, as McFarland, USA is not a political film. It is an inspiring human interest story centering on poor families doing all that they can so that their children can reach an economic level in the USA that they were unable to attain.
I should also remind you to pay attention to the credits at the end of the film as it adds to the film’s splendor. You will see what all of these kids are doing today as they appear as adults in person on the screen. You will be wishing you had some available Kleenex as you discover that most of them went on to become the first members of their family to graduate from college.
Quite frankly, the only thing wrong with the immigration reform proposal of our President is that it doesn’t go far enough. In the name of our national heritage, shouldn’t we embrace the inscription on our Statute of Liberty;
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”