Niki Caro‘s McFarland USA (Disney, 2.20), which screens this Saturday at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, has been given a mixed-respectful review by Variety‘s Justin Chang. In keeping with the politically correct view that white guys are a drag and ethnics are more planted and soulful, Chang complains that the film, a Hoosiers-like tale of a downmarket Latino track team winning big, “is treated as a Kevin Costner vehicle first and foremost.” Pic “earns points for its big-hearted portrait of life in an impoverished California farming town, but with its overriding emphasis on how Coach Costner fits into that world, it never sheds its outsider perspective, ultimately emerging a well-intentioned mix of compassion and condescension.
“Not unlike The Blind Side, McFarland, USA is likely to generate some criticism for being the umpteenth film about a white guy productively intervening in the lives of underprivileged minority youth — a charge that has less to do with the facts of Jim White’s genuinely inspiring legacy than with the particular dramatic emphasis that Caro has given them here. Pic “feels at once mildly progressive and unavoidably retrograde. It presents brief, obligatory snapshots of how the other half lives without ever seeming deeply invested, or even particularly interested, in what it’s showing us.
“What’s really at stake throughout this movie is how Costner’s Jim White and his family feel about it all: their discomfort at being forced to relocate to a low-income Hispanic neighborhood, followed by their gradual realization that, hey, these folks aren’t so bad after all, with their quinceaneras and low-riding Chevys and free-range chickens. When Jim warily mistakes some of his new neighbors for a gangbangers, only to later learn they’re just decent, salt-of-the-earth types who like to drive around in packs, you more or less know what kind of movie you’re watching — one that doesn’t trust the audience to be significantly more enlightened than its protagonist.”
Excuse me but nobody in the world feels particularly secure or charmed in the presence of young guys roaming around in packs. Everybody knows that travelling in big groups is essentially about power and swagger and intimidation — a socially aggressive statement to onlookers that says “hey Essay, we be cool…just chillin’…but at the same time don’t fuck with us because, you know, there’s like ten of us and one or two of you…okay?”