I CAN THINK of at least three reasons why I'm not supposed to like McFarland, USA: (1) It's one of those "white person saves the otherwise hopeless lives of disadvantaged young brown people" jams. (2) It's a Disney movie. (3) It stars Kevin Costner, the blandest motherfucker there is. And yet, not only did I enjoy McFarland, USA, I even felt a mysterious moistness in my eyes. That an unsurprisingly plotted sports drama slayed me so is deserving of full propers.
It's a useful privilege-guilt buffer to know that McFarland is based on the true story of a high school football coach, Jim White (Costner), whose repeat firings have landed him an unattractive gig as a PE teacher in dusty, mostly Latino McFarland, California. The school has a terrible football team, but White (har, har) soon persuades the principal they're in the wrong game. He's noticed a few of the kids running—sometimes as a form of transportation—and recognizes they have the talent for a competitive team of cross-country runners.
White is right (eesh), of course, and as he bonds with his unlikely crew of student runners he comes to not-at-all condescendingly understand something about their lives (no, really). Nearly all of them come from families of agricultural pickers, and have been doubling down on long days of both school and hard labor since before they hit puberty. White makes them realize how much tougher that makes them than the spoiled kids from fancy towns and schools. They practice in orchards without proper footwear, and each incremental success they meet is so utterly deserved that you can't help but root for them with your whole entire heart.
Meanwhile, White's understanding wife and two daughters fall in love with the community. Their neighbor gives them a chicken, and they keep it as a pet. They learn how to throw a proper quinceañera, and it's lovely. It's all unabashedly feel-good, and a bit predictable, but lovely all the same.