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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

McFarland USA (aka McFarland) movie review: run and deliver

McFarland USA red light

“Put Kevin Costner in it and you’ve got a sporty Stand and Deliver. The script writes itself.”
I’m “biast” (pro): love Kevin Costner

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

From the moment a crotchety, tough-love high-school football coach rolls into McFarland, California — “one of the poorest towns in America,” populated mostly by immigrant Mexican agricultural workers — and spots some unappreciated talent for running among its students, you will be able to predict absolutely every beat of the story to come. Can this school, which has never even had a crosscountry team before, led by a man with no experiencing coaching track, win the state championship? Will Coach Jim White learn how to be a better person in the process? (Yes, his name is really Mr. White, and this is a true story, so that’s not invented, just perfectly apropos. That the film is aware of this is just about the only bit of self-awareness it has.) A bit of poverty tourism — such as a day picking vegetables in the field just like his students do before and after school — can help with that! Will he neglect his family in unforgivable ways because the team needs him, dammit? Will his wife and daughters forgive him anyway? Gosh darn it, this is America, and when a white man comes to town and tells poor people that anything is possible, it usually is. Somewhere, a studio exec said, “Put Kevin Costner in it and you’ve got a sporty Stand and Deliver. The script writes itself.”

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of McFarland USA (aka McFarland) for its representation of girls and women.

red light 1.5 stars

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McFarland USA (aka McFarland) (2015)
US/Can release: Feb 20 2015
UK/Ire release: Sep 25 2015

MPAA: rated PG for thematic material, some violence and language
BBFC: rated PG (mild bad language, brief injury detail)

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • LaSargenta

    I saw the trailer for this thing and just groaned.

  • RogerBW

    OK, I’m not a fan of Generic Sports Movie in the first place, so clearly this isn’t for me. But, people who are: don’t we have enough Generic Sports Movies by now? What’s the point of making another one when people can just rent the DVDs of the ones that did it before?

  • Christine Perez

    Loved the movie! Elegant, well shot. Too few stories are this respectful of other cultures without being condescending. The ending is particularly astonishing as we see the actual runners many years later.

  • Christine Perez


  • Christine Perez

    Because this is not a generic sports film. It is so much more involving cultures and families.

  • This is yet another movie about a White Savior. If the movie wanted to be respectful, it could have had one of the young runners as its protagonists.

  • Nowhere near enough to make it distinctive from numerous other similar films. And there’s certainly nothing original in a white man being a tourist in someone else’s culture.

  • LaSargenta

    First off, it looked like practically every other teen sports underdog movie ever made. I’d rather re-watch the 1976 Bad News Bears. That still is fresher than this looked.

    Secondly, yet another plot that revolves around the Cranky Middle Class Older White Guy(tm) Becoming A Better Person By Means Of People Who Are Not Like Him. Really? Why do I need to see his story? I’ve seen it or something just like it ad infinitum. Nothing new looking to make me spend time nor money on this.

  • Tonio Kruger

    I’m not a big fan of Generic Sports Movies either but since this is:

    1. A movie about an ethnic minority which has been historically underrepresented in Hollywood films, especially in heroic roles.


    2. A movie based on a true story.

    I can’t help having mixed feelings about this flick.

    Then again I have seen quite enough boring and predictable art flicks praised by critics despite — or perhaps because of — their total absence of ethnic minorities that I am a bit amused that this seems to be the one movie that makes critics start drawing a line in the sand.

    Oh, well. They don’t make most American movies for the likes of me anyway.

  • In my defense, I have trashed similar movies even when they’re about white people. But I know what you mean: I feel like many male critics only notice problems with a particular kind of movie when suddenly there’s a woman at the center of it.

    But of course, this movie isn’t really about the ethnic minorities. It would have truly been revolutionary if it had been.

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