Overview: Sparked by the endurance and speed of his Mexican students, a life-science and P.E. teacher forms a cross-country team. 2015;Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures; Rated PG; 129 minutes.
Los Gringos and the Pickers: After being dismissed for misconduct from his football coach position, Jim White (Kevin Costner) relocates his family to McFarland, a community majorly comprised of migrant, Mexican farmers and their families. The White family experiences culture shock and moments of fear, highlighting the stereotype that gangbanger thugs are somehow synonymous with America’s neighbors to the south. Audience members with minor Spanish speaking skills will find some moments funnier than the the non-Spanish speaking crowd, because they’re aware of the inside jokes. For instance, when the White family arrives at a Mexican restaurant and the server informs them of the type of tacos, she lists lengua as one of the options; that’s tongue. At various times in the movie, the White’s are called “gringos” or foreigners. Costner’s portrayal of White, also referred to as Blanco, comes with a certain level-headedness that is most likely warranted by his previous mistakes resulting from uncontrolled anger. But Costner leaves the impression that Jim has the opportunity to lose his head irrationally at any moment during the training sessions or cross-country meets. He carries an unspoken emotion that resides below the surface. McFarland, USA attempts to bridge cultural disconnect by showing traditions that impact family ties through Julie, the eldest White daughter, with her surprise quinceanera and a dinner at the Diaz family residence. The key theme, in a rural, seemingly broken neighborhood is the value of community; as it becomes an extended family. This idea of community coincides with the current population distribution, particularly in California and Texas. A division of “us” and “them” remains. Movies like McFarland are instruments in demonstrating cultures can intermingle and benefit one another. McFarland is a story of compassion and humanity. By eliminating self-interest, opportunities arise as a by-product of concentrated efforts.
The Hills: The Cougars Cross-Country team mounted hills on their road to victory, and lost steam at various avenues, as did this movie as whole. Maria Marisol, the petite, English teacher who first greets Jim on his first day on the job is positioned as a sub-major individual. But her plucky fireball personality, while memorable, needed further exploration. As did the working conditions in the fields, which are downplayed, significantly. Although Jim suffered the hardest working day in his life, I imagine the conditions fare worse than what was actually shown. Director Niki Caro had the opportunity to target and leverage the labor scenes by assigning dollar amounts earned for a day’s worth of work. Money is one language everyone understands, and you either have it or you don’t.
Final Thoughts: McFarland, USA succeeds in voicing the transformation of the cultural landscape and the benefits of helping one another without a regard for social strata.