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Disney’s Inspiring Film McFarland, USA Opens

We attended the screening as a guest of Disney

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Photo courtesy of Disney

For so many of us living in affluent Orange County, life is pretty comfortable. We have it really good. We have nice homes, drive nice cars, wear nice clothes, and there’s no shortage of food on our tables. And most of us probably give very little thought to how that food gets there.

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Photo courtesy of Disney

Based on a true story, Disney’s inspiring film McFarland, USA takes us into a world few of us have much exposure to or spend much time pondering… the world of the Latino picker. A world as foreign to us as to Coach Jim White who lands in the rundown small farming town of McFarland in California’s Central Valley with his family in tow after an unfortunate outburst of anger ends his job as a football coach in Boise, Idaho. Out of options, Coach White, played by Kevin Costner in a role seemingly made for him, accepts a position as a teacher and Assistant Football Coach at McFarland High School.

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Photo courtesy of Disney

The appropriately named White family, find themselves very much the minority in this Latino town, his youngest daughter asking “Are we in Mexico?” as they are driving in. Though culture shocked upon arrival, White is determined to make it work at least in the near term until he can figure a way out and after a bumpy start with the school’s head football coach as well as his PE students, White begins to recognize that while McFarland High School may not have talented football players, it certainly has some fast runners. Turns out running to and from school to work in the fields every day builds endurance.

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Photo courtesy of Disney

This gets him thinking, what McFarland High needs is a Cross Country Team to compete in California’s upcoming first State Championships and with absolutely no cross country running or coaching experience himself, he is just the man to do it. Principal says, “Sold” and Coach White sets about forming the school’s first Cross Country Team.

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Photo courtesy of Disney

With his eyes set on loner Thomas Valles (Carlos Pratt) who he clocks running to and from the fields at record breaking speeds, White enlists Johnny Sameniego (Hector Duran), who convinces Jose Cardenas (Johnny Ortiz) and the Diaz brothers, David, (Rafael Martinez), Damacio (Michael Aguero) and Danny (Ramiro Rodriguez) to join the team. White strong arms the headed for trouble, Victor Puentes (Sergio Avelar) into coming aboard and finally is able to convince Thomas, the fastest runner to join.

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Photo courtesy of Disney

While White, or “Blanco” as his team calls him may be a teacher and a coach, it quickly becomes obvious he has a lot to learn about his athletes, their families, his new found community and its culture. And herein lies the heart of the film.

Writers Christopher Cleveland, Bettina Gilois and Grant Thompson along with Director Niki Caro (“Whale Rider” and “North Country”) do a wonderful job weaving together a story that goes deeper than your typical sports film, showing how harsh circumstances when harnessed can create champions while slowly revealing the grace and beauty of a culture as seen through the eyes of the White family played by Maria Bello as his wife Cheryl, and Morgan Saylor and Elsie Fisher as their young daughters.

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Photo courtesy of Disney

The film is completely enjoyable and uplifting, tugging some emotional strings as you watch Coach White transform these runners into champions leaving a legacy that lasts to this day; and the people of the town transform White from curmudgeon to beloved coach who along with his family become part of the fabric of their community.

McFarland, USA opens today and is rated PG for Thematic Material, Some Violence and Language.

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