McFarland, USA

McFarland USA

In Theatres: 
Feb 20, 2015
Running Time: 
129 minutes

Everyone likes a good underdog story. As formulaic as they might be, there’s something about a person overcoming the odds that resonates well with audiences and is the go-to theme of sports dramas. Disney pulls no surprises with McFarland, USA, as it crosses plot points off a checklist in a predictable story of one high school cross country team’s rise to glory. Regardless, the film still manages to deliver a heartfelt story that’s difficult to ignore.


McFarland is a small town in the middle of nowhere California. Not much happens there. It’s not surprising then when McFarland High School is the only school that will hire football coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) after he was fired for getting into an altercation with one of his athletes at his previous school. With little talent in the football team, coach White sees the school’s predominately Hispanic students show potential for running and decides to form a cross country team. Together, coach White and seven unlikely runners challenge the bigger and wealthier schools for the State Championship and even drum up a little school spirit in the town as well. More importantly, coach White learns what it means to be a part of the community and how essential family really is.


McFarland, USA has all the markings of your typical sports drama where a team rises up against adversity to become the best in the state. As a former high school cross country runner myself, I was pleased to see running be the subject as opposed to the usual football, baseball or basketball stories. We’ve seen this same story play out time and time again on the silver screen, so the races become the most interesting aspect of the film. I was especially pleased to see how well it handles them, too, from the training to race days themselves. Cross country is a team sport, despite what you may think, and the film does a great job at showing that. McFarland, USA drives that point home with how it portrays the White family being introduced into the community as well.


The ironically named White family are essentially fish out of water when they move to McFarland, California, but they are openly welcomed by the Hispanic community. They might not understand any of the customs, like when their new neighbor gives them a live chicken after moving in, but they do their best with the given situation. Coach White even takes it upon himself to learn that most of his students are pickers, kids who wake up early to work in the vegetable fields before school and sometimes after as well. They’re so fast because they run everywhere as they can’t afford cars. You get a sense of the culture of both Latino life and the town itself, something you don’t see too often in these underdog films.


Disney does a good job at taking something we’ve seen dozens of times and keeping things fresh and interesting. McFarland, USA is nothing new but still manages to draw you in and keep you entertained as you find yourself cheering for the underdog once again.

Matt Rodriguez
Review by Matt Rodriguez
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