Remember Million Dollar Arm last year? Just check out my review of that and just change the titles, k?
“McFarland USA” is the true story of a football coach who turns to Cross Country when his family is forced to take up residence in a small mostly hispanic town in California named, you guessed it, McFarland. His job quickly becomes about more than running as he connects with a new culture and these kids who could use a little hope in their lives. So why would Disney go back to the inspirational sports movie well again after they’ve done it so many times before? Oh right, because they’re really really good at it.
Yeah, this is a great movie. The folks at Disney once again prove they own this genre, playing every note with confidence and grace. Sure it’s a chord progression we’ve heard many times before, but each film is a variation on the symphony and incorporates the themes we need in new and beautiful ways. The down on his luck leader, played wonderfully here by Kevin Costner, the desperate underdog athletes, the doubting establishment, and the seemingly impossible odds. Throw those ingredients together with a well written script, a generous sense of humor, and a talented director and cast and it’s no wonder this movie works so well. The main reason though may be the way this story really gives life not only to it’s participants, but also this community, fully understanding this culture, and allowing wonderful messages about acceptance, love, and avoiding judgmentalism, without having to really preach a single word of it. Again, it’s not like we haven’t seen this formula before, but I can tell you my tear ducts certainly didn’t care. And that may be the best thing, the emotion in this is powerful, and gets you dabbing your eyes, with emotions like hope, and joy, and love, instead of sadness, or separation, or loss.
So what’s not to love about this film? Well, it does drag a bit in parts and might have been just a bit shorter, but other than that, it’s probably just the afore mentioned predictability and formula that might feel a bit stale if you don’t connect to it. But you know what else is predictable? chocolate ice cream. And I’ve never once complained about it. If it works, it works, and Disney has found a winning formula here. If they can vary the toppings every year and keep delivering the talent, I doubt they will run out of stories to tell for a long time.
Overall, McFarland, USA is a beautiful and meaningful true story told well by the practiced hand of Walt Disney Studios. Costner is solid, and the pieces around him work perfectly to play the a song that though familiar, is still powerful and emotional in the best kind of way. Even though the race goes just a bit long, I still think it breaks the tape with a solid A-