Friday, February 27, 2015

McFarland, USA Review

It should be no secret that I am a big sports fan. Also being a big movie fan, it seems really logical that I would love my sports movies, right? If you were to make that assumption, you would definitely be right. However, I can actually be somewhat picky with my sports movies. Not every inspirational sports story needs to be turned into a movie, but sometimes Hollywood gets a little carried away and does so anyways. Thus sports movies can be extremely cliche at times. To please me, the movie needs to prove to me that they are justified in turning that specific sports story into a movie. It's also a plus if they don't butcher the actual story that the movie is based off of. I get the need to Hollywoodize things a bit, but getting too carried away can be frustrating. Thus when I go into a sports movie, I'm always cautiously optimistic, with emphasis on the word cautiously. Now if there's one person that knows how to do a sports movie, it's Kevin Costner. On top of that, Disney is usually pretty good at them, too. With those two aspects combined, I was actually pretty excited for McFarland, USA. As it turns out, my excitement was justified. This is a pretty darn good sports movie.

First off, I'm not sure why they felt the need to add the "USA" onto this title. This movie was originally scheduled for the end of last year before postponing it to this February. Before they postponed it, it was simply called McFarland. I think I would've liked that better. But oh well. Minor concern. In McFarland, USA Kevin Costner is a high school football coach that has had some serious problems keeping a job due to various circumstances of which includes him losing his temper at least once. Because of this, he is left with no choice but to take a job at McFarland High School in McFarland, California, a small, poor town with mainly just Hispanic people living there. He initially sees this as a temporary job until he finds something bigger and better that can support his family. His stint as football coach doesn't last long, but pretty soon he learns that the kids here can run, so he starts up a cross country team.

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.

And of course what puts it all together are the fantastic performances by everyone involved. Kevin Costner specifically was born to star in sports movies. Yes, he's good in whatever he does, but I feel he especially thrives in these sports roles. In fact, he does such a good job that he can single-handedly carry a movie that is otherwise very average. An example of that is last year's Draft Day. When you think about the logic and realism in that movie, there's a lot of things that don't quite make sense, but Kevin Costner does such a good job as this fictional GM of the Browns that it makes the whole movie really good and entertaining to watch, despite the flaws. That's the power of Kevin Costner. What's optimal, of course, is when he doesn't have to be the only one carrying the movie. That's the case here. This is a very well-written, well-shot movie with fantastic, emotionally-driven performances from everyone involved. I can't think of one character who I wasn't emotionally invested in because of the superb acting and writing. Add Kevin Costner to the mix and you have one dang good sports movie because you know Costner will be at the top of his game and of course he is.

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. 

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