Back left
Back right

McFarland, USA Movie Review

Reviewed by on Feb 20, 2015
Rating: 4 Star Rating

Check out Kidzworld’s review of the Disney sports underdog film McFarland USA. You’ll root for a team of hard-working teens with the odds against them like never before!

By: Lynn Barker

If you were growing up in a dusty California town as a “picker”, part of the large Latino workforce that helps bring food to America’s tables, you might think you will never get out and never be anything else. Maybe all you would need is the inspiration to try something new. Who knew you could run like the wind?

The running team at an early meetThe running team at an early meetCourtesy of Walt Disney

New Coach in Town

Based on a true story and set in the late 1980s, McFarland, USA presents Kevin Costner as football coach White who gets sick of snotty, entitled players to the point of telling them off and throwing a shoe at a really jerky quarterback. Unemployable because of his temper, White can only get work in McFarland, the poorest town in California. His family totally doesn’t fit into this all Latino community of “pickers”, working hard every day in the many fields nearby. Kids and teens work in the fields from the crack of dawn, go to school, then back to the fields till dark. The younger of White’s two daughters looks out the car window on arrival and asks “Are we in Mexico?”

Coach spends a day as a crop pickerCoach spends a day as a crop pickerCourtesy of Walt Disney

These Guys Can Run!

After White clashes with the local football coach, he teaches P.E. and starts to notice that a few of the kids are really amazing runners. Hey, they don’t have cars and have to run everywhere to get to school and work. They all have ‘tudes against White at first but slowly each is convinced to join a cross country runner team that White has cooked up. Thomas (Carlos Pratts) is the fastest and the boy that White’s teen daughter Julie (Morgan Saylor) is hot for.

Coach counsels a sad ThomasCoach counsels a sad ThomasCourtesy of Walt Disney

The Road to State

The seven guys on the team, called the Cougars, start to bond and see a shred of hope for their futures. The Diaz brothers Damacio, David and overweight Danny who have loving parents, run their hearts out. Thomas is gung ho until his picker dad reminds him that sports and learning won’t help him pick crops but they all get it together and, slowly, start winning meets until they are headed for a state meet.

Coach encourages his teamCoach encourages his teamCourtesy of Walt Disney

Party and a Fight

As the family starts to fit into the neighborhood, Julie turns 15 and, of course, in the Latino community that means she has to have a Quinceanera; a big coming-out party that announces she is now a young woman. All is going really great until, while out cruising with Thomas and friends, a gang banger starts a knife fight (which we don’t see) freaking out Julie and her dad to the point that he wants to take a recently-offered job as the coach of the posh Palo Alto running team and leave the Cougars and this dangerous town behind.

Coach (Kevin Costner) at Julie's Quinceanera partyCoach (Kevin Costner) at Julie's Quinceanera partyCourtesy of Walt Disney

State Struggle

Disheartened, knowing their coach is about to leave, the team goes to the state meet. Of course, you know they have to win and with chubby Danny’s best effort to put them over the top as well. Will Coach White stick around or move his family yet again to a safer, posher, richer life?

The guys check out the other runnersThe guys check out the other runnersCourtesy of Walt Disney

Wrapping Up

Although formula without much that is new to say (those underdogs win sports movies are all the same in basic story points), McFarland, USA succeeds in making us really care about not only the success of the super hard-working, downtrodden teen heroes on the running team but about their coach and his family. The family learns a lot about generosity, hard work and tenacity from their new Latino neighbors and the teens coach White tries to inspire. He learns as much or more from them as they do from him.

Coach White (Kevin Costner) gets a chicken as a giftCoach White (Kevin Costner) gets a chicken as a giftCourtesy of Walt Disney

Even though you feel like the movie is really laying the emotions on thickly to get your tears to fall or your “go-get-um” spirit to soar, the actors form a great ensemble and make you care. Kevin Costner is especially good as the white coach working with an all Latino cross country running team. The movie is peppered with fun humor to take the tension off the pressure-to-win moments. I especially liked the scruffy chicken gifted to the coach’s family, supposedly to eat. They make an annoying pet of it.

Coach White (Kevin Costner) shares a lighter moment with his running teamCoach White (Kevin Costner) shares a lighter moment with his running team

You might identify with coach White’s teen daughter Julie (well-played by Morgan Saylor) who is brought to this backwater, dusty, nothing town angry at her dad for screwing up job after job with his temper. She had no idea she would fall for the Latino teen runner captain and end up enjoying a traditional Spanish Quinceanera instead of a standard 15th birthday party.

Thomas (Carlos Pratts) helps Julie (Morgan Saylor) with her booksThomas (Carlos Pratts) helps Julie (Morgan Saylor) with her booksCourtesy of Walt Disney

The audience at my screening of the film clapped at the end. I predict that you might want to as well. I enjoyed the film more than Disney’s recent Million Dollar Arm sports movie. We go 4 stars.

McFarland, USA Movie Rating:4

McFarland, USA PosterMcFarland, USA PosterCourtesy of Walt Disney

McFarland, USA is in theaters now!