McFarland USA

Theatrical Release: February 20, 2015
DVD Release: June 23, 2015
McFarland USA


Inspired by the 1987 true story, “McFarland, USA” follows coach Jim White, whose job-hopping leads him to a predominantly Latino high school where he struggles to find common ground until he notices his students’ exceptional running ability. He forms a fledgling team of unlikely runners who bond to build not only a championship cross-country team but an enduring legacy as well.

In reality, the school’s unprecedented 24-year streak of attending the State Championship meet came to an end while the film was in production after the small school was elevated to Division I, to compete against schools with more than 2.5 times their population (an unfortunate byproduct of their success).

Dove Review

“McFarland USA” is the perfect family movie! It is a remarkable film based on a true story and combines drama and humor to present a coach and his athletes as underdogs who work hard and learn to believe in themselves. The results are pretty spectacular.

Kevin Costner gives a strong performance as Jim White, a high school P.E. and football coach with a short fuse that lost him his last job. The story takes place in the fall of 1987 when White moves his family from Boise, Idaho, to McFarland, a central California town that is predominantly Mexican-American, poor but honest folk who pick in the fields all day to eke out a living. White’s new position, teaching science and physical education, is a step down. When the football coach he works with doesn’t like him defending a player, he loses the football coaching job, but not his teaching position. When White’s daughter points out that a few of the football players are fleet of foot, he gets the idea to start a cross country team. Other coaches think it is ludicrous and it takes White a while to get his own runners on board, but once he does—and when he lands the very fast Thomas Valquez (Carlos Pratts)—things begin to gel.

The movie features some laugh-out-loud moments, including a scene in which White thinks one of his runners’ fathers can’t speak English. He tries to speak Spanish to him to thank him for a meal when the dad replies to his son, “Tell him he’s welcome!” It’s funny too when White attempts to pronounce the athletes’ names and pretty much murders each pronunciation.

The underdog element is exemplified in a character named Danny, an overweight runner who is determined to anchor the team. He improves dramatically and by the time the McFarland Cougars qualify for the state championship, Danny is one of the nicest surprises of the final competition.

Just as the team is headed for the big competition, Coach White is offered a nice position at competitor Palo Alto. Will he opt to stay at McFarland or move on to a more comfortable position? The end of the movie does a nice job explaining how well the cross country team did from that first year onward, and that all seven of the team’s runners went on to college. This is an inspiring must-see film. We are pleased to award “McFarland USA” our Dove “Family-Approved” Seal for ages twelve plus. This movie has earned five Doves, our best rating.

Content Description

Faith: None
Integrity: None
Sex: Man on the street flirts with man's wife and eyes his daughters; man pats his girlfriend's rear; man lets coach know he is not part of a gang.
Language: O/G/M/G-2; A-1; H-1; D-1; Crappy-1.
Violence: Coach throws an object in anger in the locker room; it caroms off a locker and hits a player in the face and he bleeds a bit; a fight in school; an angry man hits the wall and yells at his wife; school athlete has black eye because he got in the way when his father was angry; gang threatens a group of people and knife is seen; apparently a few people are hurt and man stabbed but nothing graphic is shown; teen girl is seen with blood on her legs from having been shoved to the ground.
Drugs: Drinking in a couple of scenes.
Nudity: Teen athletes in shorts; boy in underwear; shirtless young men; cleavage in a couple of scenes.
Other: Some people show prejudice against the McFarland athletes; school athlete contemplates suicide and sits on a bridge but the coach talks him out of it; an athlete writes that the runners' spirits fly when they run and they feel like "gods;" tension between characters; runner is seen vomiting.


Company: Disney
Director: Niki Caro
Producer: Mark Ciardi
Genre: Drama
Runtime: 128 min.
Reviewer: Edwin L. Carpenter