Monday, February 23, 2015

McFarland USA

When I first heard of McFarland USA I thought of the 1989 movie Lean on Me starring Morgan Freeman, which obviously made quite an impression on me as there have been so many in this based-on-truth inspired school genre. It's a winning formula, because almost all of them are popular, but this movie is gritty in an unusual way. 

While McFarland USA is set in 1987, it has a contemporary feel; as if it was something that happened just last year. Some things are timeless: poverty, hopelessness, racial prejudice, despair. McFarland could have been your hometown fifty years ago, or it is today. I didn't feel like I was watching a piece of history from nearly three decades ago, it was like watching something that could have been in the news only a couple of months back. Perhaps that makes it have a connection that resonates more than others.

Kevin Costner is, of course, the master of the inspirational epic movie and he doesn't disappoint in this one. He is not afraid to demonstrate weakness, frailty, arrogance, and a host of other failings that make his characters human and believable. We feel for Coach White as he gets fired despite trying to do his best, falls foul of the new head coach in his first week on the job, fears for the safety of his wife and daughters in this rough, mostly Hispanic, town. We're rooting for him as he pushes, when he fails, as he stumbles across new truths. Costner leads us into small town living and makes us one of the community. 

He is not the only powerful performer in this drama, though. The kids really shine. The casting seems to have been spot on. I could almost believe the casting agents found old photos and searched for as close a match as they could get. I loved that hint of authenticity. The ability of the human spirit to overcome was apparent in these teens even before the Coach gave them a dream of greatness. They laughed, worked, studied, fought, with the immortality of youth and the hoary knowledge that it would lead nowhere fast. These kids, old before their time, still believed in the possibility of a future. What an inspiration!

It's an inspirational movie, you know that up front, so it's no surprise that the kids end up getting what they hope for eventually. Despite that, I was really surprised at the outcome, but learned afterwards that the process had been fast-tracked for the movie just a little. While the speed-up made it a little less believable, I think the movie would have suffered if they hadn't, so it was a good call, IMHO. 

I especially loved that each one of the kids was displayed at the end as they are today. I know it's common to have the "and this kid went on to become president" finish on these types of movies, but having the adult IN the movie at the end? Yeah, new. Nice!

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