Travel to McFarland U.S.A.

“McFarland, USA” is a 128 minute PG Rated Sports Docudrama directed by Niki Caro starring Kevin Costner (Jim White), Maria Bello (Cheryl White), Carlos Pratts (Thomas Valles), Ramiro Rodriguez (Danny Diaz) and Johnny Ortiz (Jose Cardenas).

This Disney movie, set in 1987, is inspired by true events. When the movie opens, high school coach Jim White delivers a locker room speech in which his anger gets the best of him causing him to lose his job. He subsequently accepts the only position he can find as an assistant football coach in McFarland, a poor town in California’s Central Valley comprised predominantly of Latino migrant workers.

Coach White soon becomes aware of the incredible running ability of some of his students and petitions the school board to let him form a cross-country running team. What happens over the next few months is nothing short of a miracle as the coach sets his sights on winning the California state running- championship and does whatever he can to inspire his student athletes.

I really enjoyed this inspirational underdog sports movie. Kevin Costner is passionate, likable and believable as a coach who will not quit or refuse to give up on his underprivileged student athletes. All the young Latino actors deliver terrific performances, especially Carlos Pratts. This is an amazing film that includes an informative epilogue with detailed follow- up of all the main characters (supporting the veracity of the story). I love the colorful, entertaining scenes depicting Mexican home life and culture (which reminded me fondly of the years I spent living in San Antonio, TX). The moral and message of the story cannot be overstated: even the most invisible and “expendable” members of society can achieve great success with an incredible work ethic, commitment, strong family ties and someone who believes in them.

I was afraid that this movie would be filled with clichés (especially with a man named White coming to the rescue of minorities) but the story works because he is a flawed character who was fired from a few coaching jobs because of anger management issues. There is a little schmaltz, which is to be expected in any inspirational film, but it is never over- the- top. “McFarland, USA” tugs at the heartstrings in a good way, especially in a scene involving the US flag and our national anthem. I love the musical score from the Brazilian composer, Antonio Pinto, and the original new song “Juntos” by Latin Rock superstar Juanes. One of my favorite parts of the movie is an uplifting scene played to the music of Luis Miguel’s Spanish version of “I Only Want to Be with You” (“Ahora Te Puedes Marchar”).

I have only a few minor criticisms of “McFarland, USA”. With a running time of 128 minutes, it is too long and drawn- out (it would have been just as good at 110 minutes). At times, the plot is disjointed with gaps in progression of events. Some very important scenes inexplicably leave out pertinent details leaving you to wonder what exactly happened. The audience broke into applause at the end of the movie and I do not think there was a dry eye in the theater. This is an entertaining, inspiring and enjoyable movie that is well- worth the price of admission and I give “McFarland, USA” an 8.0 on the ABBONDANZOMETER (Scale of 1-10).

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