Trying to find a good sports movie is about as difficult as trying to find a good comedy. The majority of sports movies follow the same formulaic plot of the hero that emerges from the depths of despair to being lifted on the shoulders of teammates. Now that I think about this, is there any other formula? There are few plot turns here and there, but eventually the crowd will go crazy, people will weep, life lessons will be learned and there will only be a few seconds left in the game.
I can accept all of these line items as long as there is some truth to the story. As we all know by now, Hollywood can take a true story and take the parts they like and build a movie from it. They will develop plots and characters that exist and add them to the story but still keep the main characters name and their dilemma. This is called “based on a true story”.
On a Saturday, the wife and I wanted to relax and watch a movie on our big screen. Myself, tired of car chases, bombs and super heroes convinced my wife to watch a sports movie. She said, “don’t you get a enough sports?” We agreed on McFarlane USA, thinking that Kevin Costner had something to with it.
For this movie, I have forgiven the filmmakers for the stretching of the truth and the embellishments. I like the idea of the film was actually shot in McFarlane, a small farming town in the Central Valley of California. McFarlane is a populated by Latino families where the most of their employment is derived from picking nuts, fruits and vegetables.
The film is based on the life of Jim White, a teacher and coach who moves to McFarlane in 1987 when he is out of options. White has had some troubles in his past with both authority and mouthy kids which keeps him and his family on the move. It is an immediate culture shock to the family, when they find out there are no hamburgers at the local taqueria.
White becomes the football coach, PE teacher and a life science teacher as his first assignments. He soon finds out that a 15 man football team and unmotivated students is too much for him to handle. He wants out, his family wants out but the job offers don’t seem to rolling in at this time. In a glimmer of inspiration, he sees a teenage boy running like no other kid he has seen in this community.
White approaches the principal with his plan to start a cross country team, whom agrees but with his doubts. White has never coached cross country and he doesn’t have a team. White finds the way to shed his cynicism and destitute and convince a group of boys to join the team. With very little resources and backing, White slowly builds repore with his athletes.
The beauty of this story is how this down on his luck man and these boys start bonding into a force. These kids are built tough unlike any other kids that they compete against. These are children of migrants farmworkers that still have to work in the fields with their families while going to school and training. The community begins to rally the around the team and except White and family as one of their own.
The story further evolves into the finale with the McFarland making it into the state finals. It is first year that a state finals has ever been held and of course, the inception of the McFarland cross country team.