McFarland, USA | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

McFarland, USA

Inspirational real-life sports tale about hard-laboring teens needs a wider reality

Disney + real-life story + sports + underprivileged and underestimated kids + gruff, dedicated coach = that movie you probably already saw. This latest, directed by Niki Caro, has some new paint: It's set in the chiefly Hispanic, central California agricultural town of McFarland, and the competition is cross-country running in the 1980s. Kevin Costner plays the new coach, and a handful of unknowns play the high schoolers, who mostly escape definition. What unique thing we learn about the teens is presented in a rather sunny manner — they spend half their day picking fruits and vegetables to support their families. This hardship gives them "bigger heart" than competitors from wealthier schools, but the film fails to ever raise the obvious, and more troubling, question amid all the flag-waving: What kind of country is OK with children picking our cheap produce? A kid that goes to school, runs competitive cross-country and works picking cabbages shouldn't be glossed over without comment. We can cheer for this group who literally run out of the fields, but what of those who don't?

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