McFarland USA: Disney offers heartwarming sports tale

January and February are usually the time of year where films the major studios aren’t real comfortable with get released and it’s often a wasteland of below-par cinema.

Every once in a while, during this time of year, a film overcomes this stigma and becomes something worthwhile.

Such is the case with the latest Disney release — “McFarland, USA” — starring the timeless Kevin Costner in a true story about a white football coach who, through a series of unfortunate events, becomes the first cross country coach at a predominately Hispanic high school in McFarland, California.

These sort of generical sports movie off-shoots of “Rudy” typically aren’t worth a trip to the theaters, but “McFarland” goes beyond the traditional and brings an added depth to the race relations discussion now so prominent in Hollywood with films like “Selma.”

Costner, while keeping his usual charm, isn’t the primary reason the film succeeds, but rather the bridge that keeps the whole picture moving along.

The group of talented young Latino actors tasked with portraying the underdog, but hardworking original McFarland cross country team — led by Carlos Pratts as the team’s best runner and a heartwarming performance from Ramiro Rodriguez as the tubby Danny pulling up the anchor — give the film just the right amount of heart.

Though the film takes great effort to have Maria Bello and “Homeland” actress Morgan Saylor as the secondary leads, it’s in scenes where the team interacts with Costner that “McFarland” shines the most, largely due to the compelling relationship built up between the young actors as a whole.

Director Niki Caro takes his time finding a groove within “McFarland” and as a result, the film doesn’t really take off until the final third, when the focus becomes more about a coach and his team crossing traditional racial barriers and finding a way to win.

A heartwarming family tale, “McFarland, USA” is definitely worth checking out now.

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