By Krystal Lau,
Set in the dusty San Joaquin Valley of California in 1987, “McFarland, USA” brings to light a world of underdogs and misfits in a racially segregated, predominantly Hispanic town.
Jim White, played by a grumpy yet endearing Kevin Costner, shines in his role as a misunderstood teacher and parent who has suffered through failure time and time again. After uprooting his family several times because of conflicts like anger management, his worse-for-wear family finally settles in the small town of McFarland, known for their high crime rates, low high school graduation percentages, and predominantly Hispanic population.
The family at first finds it hard to fit into their new community as White is almost immediately fired as assistant football coach and his two daughters have trouble making friends. Luckily however, White has a keen eye for talent. He sees the potential in his students, who double as pickers in the local farm fields, and have a tough stamina necessary for cross-country running.
White then comes up with the idea to start a cross-country team at McFarland High School, and that’s truly when the movie begins. Music builds, scenes begin to pick up in pace, characters grow in depth, and originally dour and rigid expressions become animate.
“McFarland, USA” is simply, a story about overcoming the odds, a story to motivate the underdog and tell the world that they might have a fighting chance. Yet the beauty of this straightforward story is in the heart of its message, in that it goes much deeper than its plot.
Director Niki Caro goes so far as to explore themes of the twisted American Dream, causing the audience to question its plausibility. Themes like the balance between fatherhood and teaching come into play, as well as greater ideas such as the importance of community, the key of education that breaks cyclical patterns, and the true meaning of a home– whether physical or simply emotional.
These all resonate with the audience, regardless of if the experiences in the film are ones the audience can or cannot relate to. That is really what touches the audience, and what makes “McFarland, USA” an empowering, convincing, and heartwarming story, and an experience that goes beyond its characters.