Sunday, February 22, 2015
"McFarland, USA": yes, this is a lesson in karma as well as sports, but it gathers speed toward the end
“McFarland, USA”, directed by Niki Caro, for Disney, is a formulaic, feel-good movie where the protagonist coach Jim White (an ironic last name), played by Kevin Costner, overcomes obstacles to coach an entirely Hispanic (sons of fruit pickers) cross country track team to victory, and give the kids the American chance to make something of themselves. It’s politically correct, with a lot of dialogue that seems a bit strained. It’s also based on a true story from 1987.
But it gathers momentum toward the end. The large audience at the pre-Oscar show at an AMC Tysons Corner today applauded.
As the movie starts, White has been fired from two consecutive high school football coaching jobs because of temperamental outbursts, and the family takes a step down to live in a migrant town in the California San Joaquin valley, north of Bakersfield, when White takes a coaching and teaching third job, from a principal (at McFarland High School) who warns him this is his last chance. (In the school world, they call this “passing the trash”). His wife and two daughters take a step down. The family solidarity will be an important theme in the film.
Football doesn’t go well, but White notices that the kids all run well. They all work in the fields before and after school, from age 10 on, to help support their families. They run fast because they have to, and most of them eat a natural Mexican diet; processed foods tend to make people of their background obese.
White has to learn to both walk and run in their shoes. At one point, he plays “Inside Man”, just like Morgan Spurlock (TV blog, July 28, 2013), learning what it is like to work in the fields. He has to deal with parents who are concerned about the loss of income from time taken for running. And some fathers don't think their kids need college educations to stay in the food business, "real life".
The final races takes place above smoggy LA, and passes the Mt. Wilson observatory. Running uphill is a major part of the sport. One of the most explosive runners, Dan, is a bit overweight so his speed (if erratic) is hard to explain.
This brought to mind my own “mile run” in Army Basic in 1968. My best time was 7:18.
The official site is here.
The final push, toward the finish line, reminded me of the informal sprint contest between Richard Harmon and Timo Descamps, here.
When high school students run track, they run all the time, every morning before breakfast. In one case I know, even before church.
Wikipedia attribution link for Sam Joaquin Valley picture by Amadscientst, under Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Public Domain Declaration.
I last drove through the area in February 2002. Surprisingly, in some area, you can’t see the Sierra mountains. The film shows some training in the coast mountains nearer LA.