When the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story
Friday night is movie night for my wife, Pam, and I. One of the neat features Netflix provides is the capability to add separate profiles to your account for up to five members of the family. This has allowed Pam to input her own ratings of movies which produce her own Netflix recommendations based on her taste in movies. So, on Friday nights we seek out movies that are recommended for both of us and settle in for an enjoyable movie night.
On a recent Friday night we watched McFarland USA from the Disney Studios. It is the kind of movie we both enjoy. Netflix would probably group it in the “inspirational coach of underdog kids sports movies based on a true story” group. We both loved the movie. Pam gave it five stars and I gave it a nine out of ten, which if you read my last post converts to a rating of five stars on Netflix.
As a general practice, I don’t read critics reviews of a movie until after I see the movie. For McFarland USA, the critics review at the top of the IMDB list of external reviews referenced a website I had never visited before, historyvshollywood.com. It’s a niche movie website that specializes in fact checking movies based on a true story. When I read the History vs. Hollywood fact check of McFarland USA, I discovered that a critical chunk of the McFarland USA story was a fabrication. Frankly, I felt cheated. Normally I’m not bothered by moviemakers taking some story-tellers license when making a movie based on a true story, some adjusting of the timeline, or adding a fictitious character to better tell the essential story. In those instances, though, the essence of the story isn’t compromised. In the instance of McFarland USA, you end up with a 50% untrue story based on a true story. The story of the team is true but the story of the coach is 90% false.
One of the self-imposed posting rules that I intend to keep is that I won’t discuss details of a recent movie, no spoilers (Classic movies, like Saturday Night Fever, which have been around for years, however, are fair game for discussion). If you have already watched McFarland USA, or you don’t mind “spoilers”, you can link to the Hollywood vs. History fact check of the movie here.
Rather than getting into the details of the movie, I’d like to address the issue of whether the discovery of the fact that Disney engaged in blatant manipulation should be cause to go back and rerate the movie. After all, if the rating was influenced by the inspiration provided by a true story, shouldn’t the rating reflect the different view of the movie that exists when you discover the story is full of holes. The answer is an emphatic No. Predictive modeling is a science. Check your emotions at the door. The reality is that, despite the fabrications implanted in this particular movie, Pam and I still like to watch well-made “inspirational coach of underdog kids sports movies based on a true story” and we’d like to see more of them. Despite being a little less inspired after learning about the facts behind McFarland USA, it is a well-made and entertaining story and we certainly don’t want facts to get in the way of a good story.