McFARLAND, USA..L to R: Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) and Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratts) w/ Damacio Diaz (Michael Aguero) in background. (Walt Disney Pictures)
I am always amazed when a movie that is “based on a true story” can change so many details. It’s as if the real story wasn’t good enough. In an interview with The Christian Chronicle, Jim and Cheryl White, the inspirational characters featured in Kevin Costner’s new film, McFarland, USA, explain some of the differences in the true story compared to the movie. Jim and Cheryl are the same age, whereas the Kevin Costner and Maria Bello couple are 15 years apart. The Whites have two daughters, but only two are mentioned in the film. And finally, the Whites are a Christian family which isn’t mentioned in the film. However, it’s not what Disney left out of the story that matters, but what they kept in. The pair have nothing but positive praise for the movie. “It’s a weird, unusual feeling to watch your own life unfold on the big screen,” says Jim. “We’ve seen it three times, and we know the story, and we’ve teared up all three times.”
The story isn’t about a white man saving a group of hispanic kids – it’s about a community that embraces an outsider and his family and together, they make their corner of the world a better place. It is a story about accepting people where they are, help them see beyond their own viewpoint and supporting each other as a community. Many churches can learn a thing or two by watching this movie.
A realistic portrayal of living in McFarland, CA.
After yet another incident where coach Jim White (Costner) gets fired for losing his temper with his students, he moves his family to the forgettable town of McFarland, California where the population is over 95% hispanic. The kids think that dad has driven all the way to Mexico. They are the minorities in this town and the last name of “White” doesn’t help. Many of the high school students refer to Jim as “Blanco,” which is Spanish for “white.” He soon learns that McFarland is not a place where anyone wants to move to and most want to get out of. Many of the school’s students work early mornings and afternoons at their parent’s farms. They are hard-workers, but unappreciated.
Jim is initially signed on as an assistant football coach for the high school, but after noticing how fast some of the kids run, he asks to become the school’s first cross country coach. Without any training or background in the sport, he and his team are equals and ultimately, he learns as much from them as they learn from him.
Maria Bello and Kevin Costner star as Jim and Cheryl White in Disney’s “McFarland, USA.” (Disney)
I will go out on a limb here to say that McFarland, USA is one of best sports movies to come around in a long time and it is even better than the classic basketball movie Hoosiers. Unlike other sports movies, White doesn’t sacrifice his family for the success of his team. He is far from perfect, often feels like he let his family down and forgets some of his own children’s important milestones. But he learns from his mistakes and starts to inspire his runners to think bigger than just getting a high school diploma and encourages them to consider attending college. This doesn’t sit well with some of the locals who feel that they are born a “picker” and will die a picker.
As the film opens, you relate with the White family and feel bad for their situation but by the end, you wish that you could pack up your stuff and move in next door to them. The movie only glamorizes true friendship, the importance of family and faith, and simple pleasures like a scene when the boys visit the ocean for the first time in their lives. The movie doesn’t shy away from the negatives about living in such a poor community either, but instead, shows how communities can come together to support each other after a tragedy strikes. At the end of the movie, members of the original track team are featured with short synopsis on what has happened in their lives after their first big win. Those stories are almost more inspiring than the movie itself.
In the recent string of movies for Kevin Costner, this one is the best. Maria Bello plays more than the dutiful wife. She is strong, supportive and many times plays the role of cheerleader for her husband and her girls. She embraces the beauty of McFarland long before the others do. There really isn’t a weak actor in the bunch.
McFarland is not a tentpole movie and not much has been said about it. The theme of cross country runners is not as popular as a football movie. However, parents should really consider treating their children to this movie as an example of how other kids in America live which might make them appreciate their own lives.