McFarland, USA: Film Review A Tale Of Community, Culture And An American Dream

What happens when you bring cross-country running into a little town called McFarland? You learn lessons about life, people and community living. You learn about what hard work really is and how when you work hard, it can pay off big.

Sports in movies seems to be an ever-increasing popular subject. As a mama of a sports player, I truly have a fond appreciation when I see a new movie release related to sports, but it is really the underlining story that attracts me to any given sports movie. As Kevin Costner said in the interview I posted earlier this week, “Well, there’s a lot of sports films that come to me that I never do because they’re not very appealing. They maybe are too much about sports or they’re too obvious or they’re too whatever. When I run into one, the best ones are about people…”

And he is so right. If I wanted to see a movie solely based on sports, I can just watch a game on ESPN. It is so important to have a good story, and the best stories come from real-life, as it did for McFarland, USA. So what makes McFarland, USA so special and touching? Let’s start with the synopsis of the film:

Inspired by the 1987 true story, “McFarland, USA” follows novice runners from McFarland, an economically challenged town in California’s farm-rich Central Valley, as they give their all to build a cross-country team under the direction of Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), a newcomer to their predominantly Latino high school.


Coach White and the McFarland students have a lot to learn about each other but when White starts to realize the boys’ exceptional running ability, things begin to change. Soon something beyond their physical gifts becomes apparent—the power of family relationships, their unwavering commitment to one another and their incredible work ethic.


With grit and determination, the unlikely band of runners eventually overcomes the odds to forge not only a championship cross-country team but an enduring legacy as well. Along the way, Coach White realizes that his family finally found a place to call home and both he and his team achieve their own kind of American dream.

And to give you a bit more of a taste for what is to come, a quick quote from the film as a female teacher at McFarland welcomes Coach White:

Welcome to McFarland. This is a farming town, these kids working here are invisible. They come from the fields and they go back to the fields. Mr. White, if we are going to reach them, now’s the time.

Now here is my take on the movie (seeing as how this is a film review, you will find spoilers below, so take caution if you plan to continue reading). Feel free to pause here until you see the movie and then come back and we can compare notes.

Jim White gets tossed from his current comfy job, yet again, and is forced to pick up and move his family to a small town in the middle of nowhere in the hopes of getting another coaching job.  The White family ends up in a small farming town that is about as eager to welcome him as he is to be there. The mostly Latino community is made up of Mexican pickers who spend their lives out in the fields to support their families.

McFarland Cougars Cross Country Team, Photo Courtesy of Disney

During a gym class and then later while driving home, he notices that the boys have an exceptional running talent, powered by their hard-working and commitment to helping their families pick crops in the fields. These boys get up early in the morning to pick crops, then head to school. Now you’ve got this new Coach, Coach White telling them he wants to start a cross-country running team which will require them to muster up the courage and energy to take on a third “job”.

Fortunately Coach White sees something special in these boys that no one else has noticed and forms a group of seven runners, three of which are brothers (Diaz brothers), to become the first cross-country team in McFarland. Training hard, while Coach White follows along by bicycle, the boys start to win races at local meet ups. The boys are up against all kind of odds from the lack of proper training facilitates to having no running shoes, in a sport mostly dominated by rich white folk. The community rallies together to support “their” boys, with the local store owner closing up shop for the first time in 25 years to go root for them in the State Championships.

Quince for Coach White's daughter, a Latino tradition celebrating a 15th birthday. Photo Courtesy of Disney
Quince for Coach White’s daughter, a Latino tradition celebrating a 15th birthday. Photo Courtesy of Disney

Throughout the movie you will find comic relief, deep seeded emotions and lots of love. The Diaz brothers mother, Senora Diaz, is a real scene-stealer and a strong supporting character throughout the film. The community is all about family and values and their willingness and desire to see their children succeed. From Quinces to uniform fundraisers to low-rider parades, this movie touches on the very heart of the Latino culture and its pride in family.

Running to the Ocean
First time seeing the ocean, Photo Courtesy of Disney

Coach White takes on a role not only as one of a Coach, but as a mentor and a father figure to these boys. He pushes them to do more, do better, and to make do with what they materialistically, filling in the gaps with the love and support of their families and community. All because it takes a village to raise a child.

McFarlandUSA mentor
Sitting on the Almond hills used as training hills, Photo courtesy of Disney.

The Director, Niki Caro did an exceptional job with this film saying “I figured out the way I work best. Which is real stories and real people. Go to the real community. Ask for their collaboration. Keep my eyes and my ears open and my mouth shut. And just see how life is lived. Be really observant.” “…to presume what life’s like, to impose my will onto the lives of Mexican teenagers who work in the fields and run. I know nothing about that. But I can learn.” She continued beautifully,”Going into communities and representing them faithfully. And I hope respectfully. Certainly lovingly. Shine a light on what those lives are like. Nothing gives me a bigger thrill than to show people from little places. People like these, how beautiful they are. And show other people how beautiful they are.” Niki, you did a fantastic job portraying all of this and more! Kuddos to you.

McFarland, USA is not just a story about cross-country running, it’s about seven young and impressionable boys on their way to manhood with only two options, find an outlet through sports or find themselves on the streets. McFarland, USA is a drama about life, commitments and the American Dream. McFarland, USA is rated PG and in my opinion appropriate for the entire family. Pack up the car, grab some snacks, and enjoy some family time at the theater this weekend!

“They started as a team and ended as a family.”

Disney’s “McFarland, USA” stars Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Morgan Saylor, Martha Higareda, Michael Aguero, Sergio Avelar, Hector Duran, Rafael Martinez, Johnny Ortiz, Carlos Pratts, Ramiro Rodriguez, Danny Mora,Valente Rodriguez, Vanessa Martinez and Chris Ellis. It is directed by Niki Caro with screenplay by Christopher Cleveland & Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson, and story by Cleveland & Gilois.

McFarland, USA is now playing in theaters everywhere. Check with your local theater for showtimes. Get social online with the official movie hashtag #McFarlandUSA and my teams reporting #McFarlandUSAEvent to learn more and interact with other fans on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The race is on & #TeamYAAAS won the second leg! Join the McFarland, USA social race for a chance to win $2500! Currently #TeamOnFleek is in the lead for leg three of the race.

Mama E

Multitasking mama to 3 living in Miami. Blogging about parenting, lifestyle, cooking and traveling. Covering everything from diapers to dorm rooms. Ask me anything, I've done it all.

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