Jim White: No.
Principal Camillo: Have you ever coached track?
Jim White: No.
Principal Camillo: You have competed in high school maybe.
Jim White: No.
Principal Camillo: Well you sound perfect.
A live-action Disney movie starring Kevin Costner, this 2015 film set in the late 1980s opens on the downward spiraling career of high school football coach Jim White (Costner). He has been fired from several jobs, and eventually ends up in the titular town (the only place that would hire him). His family struggles to fit into the low-income Hispanic culture, and White struggles to reach the students and faculty. He eventually turns from football to cross country (even though he has no experience in the sport), and turns his Ragtag Bunch of Misfits into a competitive, driven team.
Known outside the U.S. as simply McFarland, the film is based on real-life events, and does a good job of showing the lengths White has to go to to understand, connect with, and eventually unite his students. Expect lots of Sports Story Tropes, of course, but it's a well-paced movie, about a very different sport than usual.
This film provides examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Averted with Thomas' father. From Jim's perspective, it looks like his father has hit him and Thomas is blaming himself for it. However, we see that when his father found out about her sister's pregnancy, he began hitting the walls, and his son runs in to stop him, and his dad accidentally hits him in the process. Thomas explains he did it because if his father broke his hands, he would not be able to work.
- Affectionate Nickname: "Blanco" for Jim.
- Alliterative Name: The Diaz brothers, Danny, Damacio, and David.
- Artistic License – History: the real Jim White was never fired, much less multiple times either. He actually began working in McFarland right after he graduated, and the town slowly became a mostly white-dominated one to a mostly Hispanic dominated one. His daughters, who are portrayed to be 15 and 8, were actually in college during the time that the film took place.
- In the film, Thomas hangs off the side of the bridge, wanting to kill himself. While the real Thomas Valles' intent was not to jump off, he was thinking about his own life and why other people might.
- Broken Bird: Thomas, whose home life is quite difficult and sees no hope of getting a better life outside of McFarland. This explains his attitude towards Jim White trying to recruit him to join the running team. He thinks it doesn't matter, as he feels he's just going to be stuck in the fields.
- Brutal Honesty: Principal Camillo, who outright calls the other football coach an "insecure jerk chewing his apple."
- Completely Unnecessary Translator: White ropes David into this, asking him to tell his Dad something... to which David just turns to his dad and tells him in English. Senor Diaz' response? "Tell him I say thanks."
- Deadpan Snarker: Surprisingly, Principal Camillo. You expect him to be your typical overworked administrator, but he gets some pretty funny/snarky lines.
- Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: The P.E./teacher/assistant football coach job at McFarland is this to White, since he can't get a coaching job anywhere else.
- Fish out of Water: The White family when they move to the town.
- Forgotten Birthday: Subverted (he really forgot the cake), then played straight with daughter Julie's 15th birthday.
- How Many Fingers?: White does this early in the movie, holding a kid out of the game for answering "September?". It causes friction between him and the head coach.
- Huddle Power: When the team huddles, and you hear, "Uno, dos, tres... McFarland!", expect something great to happen.
- Huddle Shot: The motivational discussions before the counting above.
- Improvised Training: After seeing his team lose because they can't run uphill well, White has them train by running up and down tarp-covered hills of almonds.
- Interrupted Suicide / Talking Down the Suicidal: Coach White does this for Thomas.
- Insult Backfire: the coach from the other team mocks Jim's students, saying that they probably can't understand him. "Over there, amigo!". Later, when Jim's team beats his, he throws it back and says, "Good game, amigo."
- Miracle Rally: The state finals, where one McFarland racer burns out early, they needed him to place well... and suddenly Danny Diaz puts it into high gear and places, giving them just enough to win.
- Narrative Profanity Filter: Played with. Since this is a Disney movie, many words are gonna be implied, however Victor does say a swear word once.
- When Principal Camillo explains the situation with the student before, he says that one guy called his sister a... "you know what, I'm not gonna repeat what he said, but it explains why she's pregnant.
- At the beginning of the movie, when Jim is reprimanding a student, he mutters, "Bullsh-" under his breath
- Parental Neglect: Thomas' father seems to be this, as his sister mentions tearfully that he had abandoned them in their argument after he found out she was pregnant. At the end, he seems proud of his son for winning the California state race and embraces him warmly.
- Parental Substitute: Javi for Victor, as his current father is in jail.
- Jim White as well, who serves as a father figure for his team.
- Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The cross-country team, although it is revealed through the course of the movie that they really aren't the typical lazy kids who typify this trope—they're really hard workers, but don't have the time or money to invest in sports teams.
- Real-Person Epilogue: At the end we are shown the adult, Real Life version of the boys on the cross country team.
- Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: Most of the kids from other wealthier schools, who make remarks towards the McFarland kids.
Thomas: You play golf?
Kid from opposing team: Yeah.
Thomas: This ain't golf.
- Say My Name: Amusingly, the ending turns into this... except it's the city name that's used.
- Team Hand-Stack: Part of the Huddle Power of the team.
- Team Mom: Senora Diaz ends up playing this part, combining love and fund-raising with a smack on the back of the head...
- Underdogs Never Lose: Justified, since this is what happened in real life.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: We're shown the adult, Real Life version of the boys, and what happened to them. Most of them ended up going to college, and returning to McFarland to help out. Coach White is still there, retired after winning several more state titles.
- You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: A turning point in the movie is when the boys stop calling him "White" (and worse), and start calling him "Coach."