Tuesday, March 3, 2015

McFarland USA Adoption Movie Review

After losing a high school football coaching job because of his temper, coach Jim White relocates his family to McFarland, California. White and his family initially find it difficult to adjust to life in McFarland; the community is predominantly Hispanic, while the Whites are Caucasians, and the community’s main industry is field labor. As a teacher and assistant football coach, White learns that many of his students have to work before and after classes. The school’s dismal football record inspires White to start a cross-country team, which is joined by seven boys from the school. Unexpectedly, McFarland’s running program thrives. This film is based on a true story from nearly 30 years ago, and so at the end, we learn what became of each of the boys.

The Adoption Connection

There aren’t direct adoption connections in McFarland, USA. Some viewers might resonate with the family’s initial discomfort, but eventual acclimation to and acceptance by, a new culture. The Whites wrongly mistrust some of their neighbors. Some young viewers who were taken into foster care because of domestic abuse might be bothered when one teenager is given a black eye by his father.

Strong Points

This film is heartwarming. Throughout the film, we see that initial impressions aren’t always correct, and that there’s often much more to people than is apparent at first glance – and that what’s hidden can often be kindness and potential.

The community in McFarland embraces the White family, even organizing a quinceanera for her.

*Spoiler alert* Almost all of the boys grow up to attend college and return to serve the community of McFarland. *End Spoiler*

When the parents of his runners encourage them to focus on work instead of dreams of sports and college, White advocates for the boys, even when it involves helping out in the fields.


Jim seems to lose work because of his explosive temper. The tension between Jim and his wife is sometimes palpable. Either of these things could be challenging for some young viewers, if it reminds them of traumatic experiences they’ve had.

One boy sits on the edge of a bridge, overlooking the freeway, apparently thinking about jumping. Jim talks him down, encouraging him to thrive in his future. This scene reminded me of a scene in Martian Child, where a father figure reassures a youngster who’s looking for an escape.

One father tells his son to stop dreaming of college, because “no one ever needed a book in the field.” Later, this father applauds his son’s athletic success.


McFarland USA is a fun, uplifting, feel-good and optimistic true story that shows that people can overcome difficult circumstances, and even their past mistakes. Because of some scenes reminiscent of domestic violence, I wouldn’t recommend this to young kids, but it could be a very positive experience for parents to share with their kids between the ages of 12 and 16.

Questions for Discussion

What did the community of McFarland learn from the White family?

What did the White family learn from the community of McFarland?

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t fit in to a group of people? Did you ever find out that you did fit in, after all?

What makes a home a home?

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