It isn’t very often that a good movie about running comes along. McFarland USA is indeed a movie about running and it’s a very good all around movie too. I think you runners will enjoy it.McFarland is the underdog story of underdog stories, as a newly formed team of high school cross-country runners from an impoverished farming community face pretentious rivals in the first-ever California State Cross-country meet. Set in 1987 in the rural town of McFarland, California, we go along for a ride with a bunch of young runners that are long on natural talent and work ethic, even while they are not taken seriously by their rivals. The story is about forming a team, working hard and winning against all odds.
As with all sports movies, there’s more to McFarland than running. In truth, this story is maybe half about running. The other half of the movie is a story about cultural integration, family dynamics and understanding. This story is where we build our relationship with both the running coach and his students and that’s where this film really shines. McFarland is a picture with a lot of heart and its from that heart that we develop a deep affection for the runners and really pull for them as they try to win. We care about the team by the end of the film, because we care about the characters and really want them to succeed. This is the level on which McFarland succeeds as a movie as well.
McFarland features a somewhat typical fish-out-of-water premise to begin with: a teacher and coach moving to a small, rural town in which he and his family are pretty close to the only non-Hispanic residents. He’s blessed, in true “couldn’t have been written better if it were fiction” style with the last name “White” which quickly gets him the nickname “Blanco.” While the first act of the movie unfolds a little slowly, it’s nice to see that the outsider is not riding in on a white horse of infallibility. Quite the contrary, he’s the bud of many jokes and makes some big mistakes early on. This really is a story of learning that works both ways. By the end of the second act, this movie is hitting on all cylinders and we are invested and pulling for the team.
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