The Casual Runner

McFarland, USA (Movie Review)

What?

McFarland, USA (movie), PG, Walt Disney Pictures (2015), Reviewed February 24, 2015

The PG rating is appropriate as this film is suitable for audiences of all ages. As if that is not enough to convince you that this is a family film, it is a Disney film. So, need we say more?

Why?

Just as we told you when we reviewed the movie Unbroken, movies that prominently feature running don’t come along very often. However, whereas Unbroken featured a story about a runner and how it influenced his life, this film is so much about running that it is, in every sense of the term, a running movie.  Thus, we wanted to review it for our readers, and again, I was lucky enough to draw the assignment.

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Do not worry, as is our practice here at Casual Runner, we will not give you any spoilers.

Quick Recap

This film, which was inspired by true life event, tells the story of how a rural California farming community, McFarland, became the unlikely setting for a running renaissance.  Jim White (played by Kevin Costner), is a down on his luck high school teacher and coach (though the only teaching we ever see him do is as a coach) who moves his family to a poor immigrant farming community.  Coach White, in trying to find his way in his career and in life, sets about founding the local high school’s first cross country running team and recruiting students to fill out his roster.

If you are wondering why this movie is titled “McFarland, USA,” that is the name of the town in which the film takes place. The town is integral to the story and is as much a living and evolving character as any of the residents portrayed in the film.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (but not really).

Soon after exiting the theater, I wrote these words, which are my own, and not in the film:

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Every runner has a story to tell.

Every runner has his or her own reason why he or she runs.

Every runner motivates him or herself in his or her own way.

Every runner has his or her own definition of success.

Every runner has a story to tell.

These thoughts were inspired by the film I had just watched, and we as Casual Runners cannot be reminded of this often enough. Sadly, I have seen some runners cheat at races, cheat themselves, and even tear one another down. We forget that every Casual Runner has his or her own story to tell, and those stories can in turn inspire us to be better runners and better people.

McFarland, USA tells the stories of some very unlikely runners and their coach, who have compelling stories to tell. While I tried getting lost in the film, the subject matter kept hitting close to home and causing me to think about my own personal running story and those of my friends and fellow Casual Runners.  When I left the theater, I wanted to go out and log a training run, but was prevented from doing by the negative temperatures outside (I wish I were kidding about this, this winter is really awful).

To be honest, this film fits the formula of a typical Disney inspirational/motivational sports movie, but this is not a bad thing as it is a formula that works. I do not expect this film to be prominently mentioned come next awards season, nor will it be regarded as an all-time classic, but it is certainly one that runners and non-runners alike should watch.

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The characters and story are compelling. You find yourself not only rooting for the individual runners, but you cannot help but cheer for the town of McFarland itself.  The characters and their struggles are easy to relate to, and one naturally identifies with them and what they must invest of themselves in order to accomplish their goals. At the same time, this film does its best to remind you that, no matter how much you try to identify with another runner and his or her struggles, you really cannot truly understand until you walk a mile in his or her shoes.

The biggest star in this film is, of course, Kevin Costner.  However, after a string of recent films in which he put in great performances (Draft Day, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and Man of Steel), this performance is just OK.  His portrayal fits the film fine, but I was admittedly a little disappointed as I really liked his recent performances, particularly in Draft Day (and no, that is not just because he played the savior of my Cleveland Browns in that film).

Coach White’s wife, Cheryl (played by Maria Bello) is an interesting character who, admittedly, I wanted to learn more about than the movie offered.  The McFarland High School running team is played by a cast of actors who combine to put in a nice ensemble performance that carries the storytelling effectively.  However, the real sleeper of this film is Senora Diaz (played by Diana Maria Riva), who is the emotional catalyst.

This film is definitely a must-see for Casual Runners, but will also appeal to casual movie goers as well.  Just remember, even after you leave the movie theater, that every runner has a story to tell.

Neither Mike nor Casual Runner received any consideration or compensation for this review, and the opinions are solely those of the author.

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