'McFarland, USA' inspires while bridging cultures

Tom Long
The Detroit News

There's an upbeat Disney sheen to "McFarland, USA" that's not entirely unwelcome in the wake of "50 Shades of Money."

This is a decidedly old-fashioned, inspiring, true story sports yarn that also bears a pro-immigration, we're-all-Americans attitude that might be controversial if the whole thing wasn't such a feel-good enterprise. Disney has been making this sort of family-friendly product for decades now, and when they get it right, they get it right. With "McFarland," they've gotten it right.

Kevin Costner stars as Jim White, a high school football coach who loses his temper in the locker room one night and is suddenly unemployed. So he packs up his wife (Maria Bello) and two kids and takes the only job available, in McFarland, a dusty central Californian town populated for the most part by Mexican farmworkers.

The football coach there is a jerk, so White looks around for other coaching opportunities. What he finds is cross country, a sport he and McFarland know nothing about. The bulk of the film has to do with him recruiting boys — all of whom work in the fields with their fathers — to join the team, and then training them.

Cultural clashes are inevitable — the guy's name is White, for heaven's sake — and the film is more about the coach's acceptance and understanding of Mexican culture than it is about cross country. New Zealand director Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") brings a nice outside perspective to what is hardly a specifically American dilemma.

Yes, it's a bit corny and convenient at times, but there's an admiration here for hard work, ambition and battling adversity that overrides cynicism. "McFarland, USA" is a good film about good people; nothing wrong with that.



'McFarland, USA'


Rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language

Running time: 128 minutes

"McFarland, USA" (PG) Kevin Costner stars as a cross country coach whose athletes are immigrant Mexican field workers in this old-fashioned, inspiring true story that bridges cultures. Disney done right. (128 minutes) GRADE: B