McFarland, USA: Old-fashioned, Predictable Inspirational Sports Drama

McFarland_USA_posterMcFarland, USA is an old-fashioned, utterly predictable inspirational sports drama about a Mexican-American cross-country team from rural California.

Based on a true story, the movie stars Kevin Costner, who seems to be on a roll lately as an actor, as the team’s coach, a man determined against all oddsto guide some farm workers’ kids into a team that’s good enough to compete in the state’s first cross-country championship.

The script by Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson focuses on disgraced high-school football coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), who finds a new career when he moves to the small, impoverished town of McFarland, California. 

In his interpretation, Costner draws on White’s ambition and bitterness, traits that make him more grounded and credible but also less likeable as a person. In other words, Costner’s coach is far from perfect, but he is committed to the cause, and shows utmost devotion to his Latino runners.


White brings his family—wife Cheryl (Maria Bello), daughters Julie (Morgan Saylor) and Jamie (Elsie Fisher)—to McFarland because he has nowhere else to go. Moving into a cramped house, he get dismissed from coaching the local high-school football team.

His idea of forming a cross-country team is also meant to bring more state funding to the school. He perceives the team as a way out of McFarland to a more expensive town like Bakersfield. When he recruits the seven ncessary runners, he is forced to see the strong impact of devastating  poverty on the lives of his students.

There are some of instances of battles, a suicide attempt, a knife fight that sends some kids to the hospital, but overall, this is a pre-digested, if also enjoyable film, in which there is nothing for the viewers to do but nod with agreement.

But the positive messages dominate most aspects of the narrative and production, emphasizing such values of the American Dream as teamwork, cooperation, and community.

While acknowledging the sharp stratification of American society along lines of status, class, and power, and filmmakers have constructed the students as more multi-nuanced and multi-layered than is the norm in such films.

mcfarland_usa_7Like all inspirational sagas (sports and otherwise), McFarland USA is by turns touching, rousing, but also manipulative, hitting all the expected points without ever finding new themes and/or new ways to depict old themes.




The film is from Mayhem Pictures, the producers of “Million Dollar Arm” and “The Rookie,” and cost only $25 million to produce.

“McFarland, USA” should gross about $9 million when it debuts, on February 20, 2015, at 2,755 locations.