Despite its feel-good drama and ethnic acceptance that dominate large portions of this film, there’s no denying that its a little too formulaic to stand out over other sport titles. Inspired by the 1987 true story, McFarland tells the story of a group of novice runners trained by head coach Jim White (Kevin Costner) to learn discipline on and off the running track and compete at a top level. For the most part it feels content on just being a good film, shot well and the clash of American and Mexican cultures is interesting without feeling offensive or racist.
The story begins with no-nonsense running coach Jim fired from his old job after an altercation with a student that subsequently results in Jim packing up with his family and taking a coaching job in California. Surrounded by a predominant Latino population both in and out of his job, Jim finds solace in a group of kids running and takes them under his wing to train them up to being decent runners. For the bulk of McFarland, it revels in being another “overcoming all odds” film follows all the familiar beats you’d expect from a story like this. Although its mostly formulaic, it never feels contrived or too cliched as it explores the lives of the Latino kids.
The underdog tale is one that’s been repeated a lot in Hollywood recently and despite its heartwarming charm and decent characterisation, there’s no denying that its rehashed story doesn’t stand out in the long run. Where McFarland does shine though is with its unconventional characters. With a predominantly Latino cast, this running film works best when its exploring the characters and getting to know each of them. There’s some interesting commentary on racial tension and equality but McFarland never dives deeply into these subjects, instead deciding to brush over the hard hitting narrative to focus its attention on being a light hearted sport drama.
Its not all bad though and McFarland is a decent family film, even if it does feel overly familiar. Its certainly not a film that’s going to be remembered for years to come but the charm and feel-good vibes it generates are enough to make it a pleasant watch. Kevin Costner elevates the film too and his performance helps in this sport biography but it never quite feels enough to lift it out of the formulaic beats that make it far too familiar to other underdog stories.