Movies about sports aren’t usually my first choice but the opportunity of a night out with a couple of girlfriends with a tankful of Diet Coke and bushel of movie popcorn was just too tempting to resist. The movie we went to see is McFarland USA starring Kevin Costner and I particularly liked the fact it is based on a true story set in 1987. It’s the story of a high school physical education teacher and football coach who is dismissed from a series of jobs because of anger issues and is forced to relocate to a poor, immigrant town in Southern California that represents everything he does not want for his family. Ironically, their last name is “White”.
Driving into the Hispanic farming community of McFarland, the family is confronted with their what appears to be their worst fears—grinding poverty, language barriers, social problems and cultural alienation. The high school students he teaches get up at forty-thirty every morning, hop into the back of a pickup truck to go and pick vegetables to augment the family income before they run to school a few hours later. After school, they repeat the process, in reverse.
Kostner’s character, Jim White once again is dismissed as football coach at his new school but after noticing the running skills of his students he decides to introduce them to the world of competitive cross-country track. He recruits seven students and after training and winning several events, they defy the odds and prove the value of effort.
I don’t want to give the entire story away but I will say the theme reminded me of why I enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s Grand Torino so much. Too often we judge others by unfair stereotypical preconceptions. Fear of what we do not know or lack of understanding is often at the root of prejudice. We need to be reminded of this from time to time. And to count our blessings that hopefully our children and grandchildren don’t have to pick vegetables for three or four hours before and after school every day to keep food on the family table. For all our bounty, we give thanks. This movie was a lovely surprise and is definitely a thumbs-up.