There's several things that really make this movie work. The first is the fact that it's cross country. As much as I like basketball, football, and baseball movies, they've all been done like a hundred times each at least, so if you are going to do that, you really need to make a concerted effort to make your movie stand out. Cross country is something that hasn't really been touched on much, so that's a huge plus right there. Also, while I'm personally not a runner, there is a lot of lessons and symbolism that can be taken from running a race that makes the subject rather beautiful. This movie takes advantage of that. There are a lot of themes that you can take from this movie at apply it to your life. One example of this is comes when the boys hit a hill for the first time. They're great at running when it's flat, but when they hit that hill, they really struggle because McFarland isn't a hilly place. Such is a metaphor for life. It's easy to be happy and upbeat when everything is just smooth sailing, but what are we going to do when suddenly we run into an uphill battle? As Kevin Costner tells his bunch, everyone goes through pain as they are running the race, but the people that are going to succeed are the ones that are tough enough to deal with it.
Another thing that really makes this movie work is that it's not just a cool story about a cross country team that came out of nowhere to do really well in the late 1980's. I would contend that the main focus is actually on Kevin Costner and his family adjusting to life in this small, Hispanic town. Costner is searching for the typical American dream and thus he and his family really have a hard time adjusting to this new life and overcoming all these cultural barriers. If you yourself are Hispanic or you have ties to the Hispanic community, you are sure to love this movie because this movie hits home how amazing the Hispanic people are. They are a hard-working people with a lot of heart, have a lot of strong traditions, and are especially focused on family. They can easily be misunderstood and taken for gang-bangers that are violent and can't be trusted. For these reasons, Kevin Costner has a hard time adjusting to living in McFarland. But once he is able to see these people as the amazing people that they are, that's when he is really able to connect with his team and help them do great things. It's really touching.
In the end, McFarland, USA is a sports movie that I quickly fell in love with. Can you say it's a predictable movie? Sure, I suppose you can. But this is a genre where you don't need to be crazy and unpredictable. It's like performing the national anthem. Some singers try to get super fancy when they perform the national anthem at the beginning of a game and that actually bothers me. I just want them to sing the national anthem and sing it well. Same thing with sports movies. You have a formula that works really well. You don't need to get all crazy and weird with it. Just tell the story and tell it well. That's what McFarland, USA does. It's not fancy or unpredictable. It hits all the notes you would expect a sports movie to hit, but it hits them very well and that's why it works. It's an inspiring movie with a lot of powerful themes that will even be a tear-jerker at times with how well it's done. This definitely deserves to be added to the long list of great sports movies. My grade for McFarland, USA is a 9/10.