Written by / 3/01/2015 / No comments / , , , , ,

DISNEY PRESENTS KEVIN COSTNER IN MCFARLAND USA

year: 2015 rating: **1/2
Sometimes life imitates art. Other times, art imitates life. And every so often, art imitates art imitating life...

Biopic Doppelganger
Like in the case of MCFARLAND USA mirroring the Gene Hackman sports film HOOSIERS, both true stories and extremely similar in theme and substance including a reluctant star player; a stubborn female teacher with good intentions; a disgruntled assistant coach with bad intentions; a kindly old-timer; a physically inept yet endearing team member/mascot; hands over hands before each match; and the most striking and important similarity, an intense coach demoted to a small town after being fired from having “abused” a back-talking athlete. But instead of a hayseed Indiana town, McFarland is almost all Spanish – and completely under the radar.

Kevin Costner
The casting of the leading role works and it doesn’t. At the very end we see Jim White, twenty-five years later, the real life long distance running coach the film is based on, who’s not much older than Kevin Coster is now.

The Real Guy
The story about a man with two young daughters at an occupational crossroads would be more logical with someone around forty. But Costner fits the laidback style since most of the actors aren’t actors, but student/athletes. In that, he tones down his already mellow persona to fit their non-professional style. Plus Costner has the background in sports cinema including BULL DURHAM, TIN CUP, FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME and especially AMERICAN FLYER, involving another tough sport where mountains are scaled.   

Recommended Costner Film
Balancing a typical underdog vehicle while primarily focusing on the Mexican American struggle, all the cultural aspects, while an important backdrop, distracts from the real story. And what’s missing is Coach White’s own progression from a football coach into an expert at this new challenge – with the expectation of throwing in a “How To Coach Long Distance Running” VHS tape (this was the '80s) we never experience how he learned the ropes along with the team. It all just sort of happens.

Of the “actors” herein, most of the performances are awkward – the dialogue feels rushed and the personalities mesh together. Then again, these young men have the kind of realism an actor couldn’t learn. Scenes where Costner’s Coach White steps into their work shoes borders on effective and melodramatic. A combination that often hinders the entire “life affirming” cinematic experience.

Overall, while McFARLAND USA has its heart beating in the right spot, there needed a steadier pace with more time centered on the very sport that shaped the man, the students, and the town. But as feel-good movies go, it isn't that bad. OVERALL RANK: Jedi, Rebel, Droid, Sith.
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