Unless “McFarland, USA” is your first rodeo, you will likely be able to predict exactly will happen after about 10 minutes in.
Like “Cool Runnings,” “The Mighty Ducks” and “Remember the Titans” before it, “McFarland, USA” centers around a ragtag group of guys that beats the odds in the face of adversity, using sports as a way to teach the audience about the value of stick-to-itiveness.
Trite? Yes. Original? Nope. But does it have what it takes to make a grown man cry several times in 129 minutes? You betcha.
The quasi-factual film stars Kevin Costner (who will forever be perfectly cast for any sports movie) as Jim White, a new assistant football coach at McFarland High School in a low-income, predominantly Hispanic, California town in 1987.
Many of the athletes work in their father’s fields picking fruits and vegetables before and after school. One of the boys has a young, pregnant out-of-wedlock sister, and a father who repeatedly abandons the family. The father of another boy is in prison. No one in their families has ever gone to college, and none of them has ever been to the ocean.
White’s athletes call him “Blanco,” both because he is Caucasian and because his last name is White. The students don’t respect him, and White already has one foot out of the door after just a few weeks on the job.
But after a football player is repeatedly whacked by a much larger opponent, White soon realizes that the students will never be good at football. After he sees several students running home after school, he sees that they could be great runners.
Despite never running cross-country or coaching the sport himself, White decides to round up the seven students needed for a team. He does so by trading suspension for participation for one student, and recruiting three boys cut from the football team.
The runners are half-hearted about the team at first, but after they find themselves on the receiving end of racial taunts from both the coaches and peers at their first cross-country meet, their passion ignites. After his team comes in last place, White vows that it will never happen again.
“McFarland” goes into familiar territory from there, with runners quitting, rejoining the team, becoming friends with White, getting mad at White, and White threatening to take another job after a violent incident involving his daughter.
And yet, all of this plot familiarity doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable or inspiring.
You’ll be lying if you claim you didn’t get a tear in your eye when White lets off his runners at the ocean for the first time, or when the slowest, most robust runner on the team comes through at the state championships.
We’ll let you guess whether or not the team wins state, or if White takes a different job, but you already know the answers. Fortunately for the film, it doesn’t really matter that you do.