Rated: PG for thematic material, some violence and language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: February 20, 2015 Released by: Walt Disney Pictures
Another inspirational, family friendly sports underdog film ('based on actual events') set in 1987 is often appealing in the hands of 'North Country' (where a miner displayed spunk against sexual harassment in Minnesota) director Niki Caro rendering an affectionately encouraging "it takes a village" community spirit.
Kevin Costner (Black or White, For The Love of the Game, Mr. Brooks among his many credits) stars as temperamental Idaho high school football coach Jim White, who ends up in the eponymous California Central Valley location (a mostly Mexican-American farming community) with his wife Cheryl (Maria Bello) and two daughters, teenage Julie (Morgan Saylor) and preteen Jamie (Elsie Fisher). Jim is promptly dismissed after hurling a shoe in a locker room that bloodies the face of one of his players.
The crestfallen, frustrated middle-age guy doesn't like being awakened by a rooster as the sun rises and is unsure whether he can handle this change where many of the students pick crops, attend school and return to work.
The sensible principal (Valente Rodriguez) sees something in White that he may not see in himself and is left with a physical education position after clashing with the head coach of the football squad. Recognizing the speed in some of the students leaving class for jobs, Jim puts together McFarland's initial seven-player cross-country team with the help of one of the students.
Thomas (a sharp Carlos Pratts) has much endurance and quickness that quickly catches White's eye, while also extolling pudgy Danny (Ramiro Rodriquez), close to his two brothers, also part of the group. The coach starts to realize the learning curve on the first meet which means getting better running footwear and altering the coaching and discipline enough so to get them very high in the state competition.
Caro works convincingly from a trio of scenarists to show how character is established in an honest, rather unsentimental manner from the way White partners with his diverse cross-country unit, even being with them picking crops in the fields. A generous neighbor of a matriarch gives him a chicken and consorts with a shop proprietor devoted to the runners. Even the cynical Julie begins to adapt to school and begins to date Thomas as a quinceanera is arranged for her. Even, Cheryl (though Bello should have been allowed to display more of her talents but is adequate enough) finds their new setting to be maybe the most live-in of all as she meets some of its distaff members.
McFarland, USA knows the attributes of Costner in a part that contrasts with his fine work opposite Joan Allen in The Upside of Anger in understanding populace that knows how to prosper. The foibles of White are well-etched even if the role like most of the other characters really isn't all that finely shaded, but able to instill the tenets that coincide to realize the onerous methods to excel on the track. Even more appealing than the likable, similarly-themed Million Dollar Arm, another mainstream, albeit predictable Disney feature has a stellar way of depicting the struggles to strive into leadership while also respectfully capping the whereabouts and ups (and downs) of its interesting real-life roster.