Director Niki Caro (â€Whale Riderâ€ť)
is already adept at feel-good films, and star Kevin Costner (â€Bull Durhamâ€ť,
â€Field of Dreams,â€ť â€For Love Of The Gameâ€ť, â€Tin Cupâ€ť,
â€Draft Dayâ€ť) certainly has done his share of sports movies, and who
doesnâ€t love to root for the underdog?
,â€ť though swimming in the predictable waters of athletic
triumphalism, still manages to entice the viewer to love its own unique
version of small-town
the lush orange groves and lettuce farms are dotted with seasonal workers,
many of them migrant, some of them illegal immigrants, and none of them making
a living wage, but here they are, anyway, slaving away in the hot sun, trying
to catch some elusive part of the American Dream.
Coach Jim White (Costner) moves to
town in a U-Haul, with his wife and two daughters, mainly because he has no
other choices left.
It seems he has a temper, and has demonstrated it
not only with superiors, but with the kids heâ€s coaching, as well.
This is sort of his last chance, as an assistant
coach of a small-school football team that is getting shellacked every week.
The head coach is brutish, nasty, and
incompetent, managing to inspire in his charges nothing but disappointment and
is about to blow his last chance to get along when the principal suddenly asks
him about coaching cross country instead.
Heâ€d never done it.
But he was willing to try anything at this point.
And he soon discovered that he actually had some
talent to work with. The
trouble was, the boys werenâ€t always available.
They were out picking in the fields, alongside
the rest of their families, just as theyâ€d all been doing since they were
ten years old.
Coach White, out of solidarity,
thinks that heâ€ll go out with them one day to pick lettuce, but soon
realizes what backbreaking drudgery it is, and soon adjusts his thinking.
He holds practices whenever he can.
He gets to know the kids and their families.
The Hispanic community begins to realize that
here is a Gringo who actually cares, and they begin to respond to him.
Heâ€s willing to learn from them.
Heâ€s willing to laugh at himself.
He knows how to encourage the boys to find that
reservoir of toughness within them.
And before long, the boys begin to experience
some success, and then to develop some enthusiasm, which spreads through the
town like wildfire.
Theyâ€ve not experienced this kind of winning
before, and they were happy to be part of the unabashed celebration.
Coach White and his family find a supportive
community they didnâ€t expect, especially when they all turn out for the
older daughterâ€s Quinceanera fiesta.
Sure, it sounds schmaltzy, but it
is actually based on a true story, and we even get to meet the â€realâ€ť
characters during the closing credits.
No, there are no real surprises here.
But this is the kind of family film that can
reach through several generations, and be multi-cultural, as well, which makes
it run circles around some of the self-entitled competition.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish
Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church,