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Review: McFarland, a Disney running-themed film

Based on a true story, Kevin Costner plays Jim White, a failed high school football coach that finds himself at an impoverished school in the Californian town of McFarland. After getting fired as the assistant coach of the football team, White stumbles upon the raw talent that is all around him in a group of first generation Mexican-American students. Much like East African children, these kids have spent their lives running – as a means of transportation to and from the plantations where they work, all before a full day of classes. This work ethic is also something that White identifies as an edge that they will have over the preppy schools of the middle class suburbs. Although he knows nothing about running, White decides to form a cross-country team.

McFarland is what you’d expect from a Disney film. It’s a conventional biopic, delivering a series of life lessons for both the protagonist and viewer, all in a sturdy plot with somewhat predictable subplots. But McFarland is still a charming film.

Although Costner is maybe a touch too old for the role he plays, the performance is believable. The filmmakers also don’t shy away from exploring the character’s initial discomfort with living in a predominantly hispanic community. But White’s big character arc is in discovering, through the common bond of running, that the kids he’s coaching are just as stubborn, tough and sensitive as he is revealed to be by the film’s conclusion. In the end, White elevates his group of underdogs to a state championship, and in turn, McFarland provides White with a sense of community and purpose.

Even though running has become a massive industry, there is still a dearth of truly great films on the subject. McFarland has a few intense training and racing scenes that are well shot and true to how actual cross-country running plays out. Although this may not be the Citizen Kane of running films, McFarland is a fun, family-friendly movie that illustrates just how profound and life-changing such a simple sport can be, no matter where you start off.