Mainstream movies aren’t meant to be documentaries (hence the separate Oscar category), yet
whenever I see “based on a true story” in the credits I can’t help but do some Googling to find
out exactly how fact-based (or not) the movie happens to be.
Some of this is a facet of my mind playing tricks on me: See you normally hate ‘educational
films’ and here’s one that you enjoyed! Nope, hold your horses because this psuedo-documentary was more ‘psudeo’ than ‘documentary’. Maybe I just want to feel like I’m smarter than I am without putting in the documentary-style effort. (This is sort of like watching a dubbed foreign film instead of seeing the original with translations across the bottom that involves—gasp!—reading.)
I’m in the process of taking full advantage of a free month-long Netflix trial subscription
(remember you’re talking to someone who recently confessed that she has a VCR at home) and
had this pseudo-documentary experience with MCFARLAND, USA. The Twitter-style summary is that sons of migrant workers work their butts off to win a cross country State Championship (and later go on to college, family-firsts for them) as coached by a white coach who is literally named Jim White.
It’s a great story. I had a feeling I’d cry through the movie just from the previews. I’ll root for an
underdog any day of the week. Couple that with the fact that the seven boys who star in the
movie join a cross country team and I’m a joiner myself (as in, I love being part of any group)
and this should be a winner by all counts.
And it was.
The movie was entertaining and the actors did a great job. At the end, when you see the actors
transition into their real-life counterparts while running with their real-life coach, you can’t help
but swallow a lump in your throat. (It’s only for the most heartless that the lump is a popcorn
kernel and not a tear.)
So, the movie ended and I felt great, albeit a bit choked up. That’s when Google came in and
ruined things for me. (Credit here goes to www.HistoryvsHollywood since I didn’t do much more
Googling than that.)
One of the things that heightened the drama and tension in the movie is that the movie-Coach
had been fired from numerous jobs before landing in McFarland, his last chance at a good
future for his wife and two girls. Not only did the real Coach White have three girls (and my
heart goes out to this woman who apparently wasn’t special enough for the silver screen) but he
begin teaching in McFarland right out of college. McFarland wasn’t his last chance, it was his
first chance—and more importantly, his first choice.
At one point, the Coach drives the boys to the beach on their way home from a cross country
meet. At the entrance to parking where a guard says parking is nine dollars, the Coach
tells the guard “I have five dollars and seven boys who have never seen the ocean.” (Fair
disclaimer: I’ve already mailed back the DVD so the quotation may be slightly off.) It’s heart-
wrenching: the Coach is saying the boys have intrinsic value. They help their families pick in
the fields before and after school and yet here the boys are worthy—and worth something. Too
much reading into the line of dialogue? That’s okay, I’ll stick with my interpretation anyway.
Here’s where history gets in the way—apparently, in real life the girls team was with them. It
was a full busload of students, not just these seven boys. It shouldn’t matter if there were fifty
people on the bus—the point is that they didn’t have the money to get in and a friendly guard
waved them through. Somehow the added students on the bus seems to have decreased the
value of this good deed. It shouldn’t really matter, but instead it feels like suddenly the boys are
worth a lot less with more people on the bus.
So, MCFARLAND, USA I love you. I love this great story about a team that triumphs and the town that supports them. But, you’re a little too far off in the history books for me to feel quite as
great as I did before I consulted Google. A mind may be a dangerous thing to waste (if you
grew up in the 80s) but Google is a dangerous thing, too.
*Stay in touch and find Zoe here.*
If you want to get MCFARLAND,USA you can check it out on Amazon.com.