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'McFarland, USA' recreates true California underdog story

A scene from 'McFarland, USA.'
A scene from 'McFarland, USA.'
Photo courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

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"McFarland, USA" tells the story of high school runners who are transformed from field workers to champions with the help of a coach who never gave up on the teens' potential.

The Niki Caro film is based on the true story of Jim White, who landed in McFarland, California, in 1987 by way of a coaching job at McFarland High School in California's Central Valley. Many of the students there come from families of field workers, with some of the teens following in their parents' footsteps.

But White observes that his students have a talent for running, and he decides to form the school's first cross country team. From there, the rest is history.

"I had been looking for a long time for another movie that I could make in the same way, that had the potential for the same heart and humanity, and I thought, 'McFarland, USA' had those elements," said Caro, in reference to her 2002 film, "Whale Rider."

"McFarland, USA" official trailer

Kevin Costner stars as White, and the team is made up of seven young actors, three who hail from McFarland.  

"It was never going to be a movie just with Kevin Costner and a bunch of brown teenage kids. Every one of those kids had to be impeccably cast with actors that could run," Caro said.

Caro hopes audiences walk away feeling pure goodness.

"In the tradition of underdog movies, obviously it feels good when the underdog wins. But when these underdogs win -- these scrappy underdogs -- it just feels great."

"McFarland, USA" hits theaters Friday.