Wednesday, February 25, 2015

[Review] McFarland, USA

You've seen it before, and you know exactly how it goes. The inspirational, feel-good movie about an underdog sports team. This here is ripe material for Kevin Costner. A lot of times this sort of thing gets scoffed at, but you know what? McFarland, USA is really effective, and it's one of the more well-executed films of this genre. It's completely okay to be moved sometimes.

To the film's credit, for being such a conventional outing, it never attempts to over explain anything. The opening scene involves a football coach Jim White (Costner), scolding his team and throwing a shoe during a halftime blowout. Straight after, he and his family move to McFarland, a predominantly Mexican working-class neighborhood, described as "the poorest area in the nation" where the high school is across the street from the prison. Jim takes the only coaching job he can get during this point at the shabby school. So, we assume he got ousted from his district for an incident that was probably blown out of proportion. From there, he puts together a track team, and after a few rough hurdles and some motivation digging, they go from laughing stock to serious state competitors.

The sporting aspect runs through the basics, but it's based on a true story (an amazing one, at that). It's a culture shock of awakening for the main character, an ode to hard work and dedication, and a heartwarming story of community. The narrative subverts using stereotypes but honors the Mexican traditions, while also working to clear itself of the "white savior" trope. Director Niki Carro seems more invested in looking at ways in which the roles and expectations can be reversed. On the performance front, Costner is again skillful at getting the riveting sports mood across through speeches, and the young cast of track stars are quite fun and impressive as well. Some scenes teeter close to the corny side, but there are a handful of moments in the film where it's extremely difficult not to feel a lump in your throat, unless you're just completely cynical and jaded.

Now, at the cost of me using a sports movie review cliche: McFarland, USA is a winner. 


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