Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Blind Side [movie review]

* Released theatrically in November
The trailer for The Blind Side did little to compel me to invest a couple of hours watching it. The movie-of-the-week sap quotient looked off the charts, plus I had coincidentally already watched a couple of awful football movies in the past week (Any Given Sunday and Leatherheads). Those two duds only helped to fortify my disdain for the game and movies about it. So perhaps it was the need to balance out my recent film consumption that has skewed topically towards the darker side, or perhaps it was just that I wanted to watch a sexy blonde Sandra Bullock walking across the screen in a series of tight pants and skirts (well at least I'm honest). Whichever, I gave The Blind Side a shot and have no regrets.
The movie is based on a 2006 book titled The Blind Side: Evolution Of A Game by Michael Lewis, which devotes approximately half the pages to discussing football strategy and half to the story of Michael Oher, an at-risk youth who went from being practically homeless to a first round draft pick in the NFL (he currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens). As a 16-year-old, Oher's troubled upbringing (absent father, addict mother) has him heading down a path to nowhere until he gets accepted at a Memphis private Christian school. The enrollment is spearheaded by a football coach who insists "You don't admit Michael Oher because of sports. You admit him because it's the right thing to do". His altruistic intentions appear to be sincerely expressed, but I can't help but think the guy is just salivating at the opportunity to get the 6'4, 330 pound future linebacker suited up in the school's colours. One night, Bullock's character (Leigh Anne Tuohy) is in the car with her family when they notice a somber looking Oher walking through the cold and rainy night wearing just a t-shirt and shorts. Aware that he's a new student at her children's school, she suspects he could use a helping hand and extends an offer to him to spend the night at their mansion (she is a successful interior decorator and husband Sean owns 70+ fast food outlets). One night turns into weeks, until finally the family ends up adopting him. Along the way, the extremely introverted Oher starts to come out of his shell and, with the help of a tutor the family hires, improves his grades to a level which will help him earn a college football scholarship.
Bullock is a tour de force, clearly relishing the opportunity to stretch a little dramatically and her character gives her plenty to work with. Leigh Anne is a spitfire, unwilling to suffer fools gladly nor keep her strong opinions to herself. It's the kind of weighty role Bullock needs to try on for size a little more. Other than a couple of serious roles in Crash and Infamous in recent years, most of her movie choices have tended to be interchangeable roles in forgettable romantic comedies. Country singer Tim McGraw (almost unrecognizable without his goatee and cowboy hat) plays her husband and proves to be a revelation. His Sean character really isn't given a substantial amount to do other than agree with whatever Leigh Anne says and support her decisions, yet McGraw has such a likeable, calm easiness that his performance resonates more than it has any right to. Quinton Aaron, as Michael, is the focus of the movie, yet he still plays second fiddle to Leigh Anne (everybody does in this movie), despite his imposing physical presence. He is the proverbial "gentle giant", a young man of very few words. Too few, actually. We're given brief insights into what makes him tick, but not nearly enough. Aaron does a decent enough job at conveying Michael's inner pain, as well as discomfort at acclimatizing to his new posh accommodations, by using his body language and facial expressions to make up for what he is unable to express orally. Still, the character does't feel as fully formed as you'd like.
As that trailer suggested, The Blind Side indulges its lowest common denominator impulses more than a few times. We get a cheesy scene with Michael and S.J., the youngest Tuohy kid, driving in Oher's new truck and trading off vocal lines on Young MC's "Bust A Move". Then there's another precious montage with the two where the little scamp assumes the taskmaster coach role and puts Michael through his workout paces. S.J. is supposed to be the comic relief in the film, but his incessant mugging and one-note cuteness get old real fast. Speaking of not being able to act, the film has cameos from several real life college football coaches that I guess I would care about if college football meant anything to me. Seriously, what's with the insane popularity of this sport in the States? I don't get it.
The sap in The Blind Side is held to a slow trickle, a welcome relief in a film whose premise could have made it rife for a deluge of the sticky stuff. We get a scene with Leigh Anne where her friends question her efforts to help Michael. After some awkward exchanges, including one where a friend asks her if this is "a white guilt thing", one of them tells her "Honey, you're changing that boy's life". Leigh Anne responds with "No, he's changing mine". Another scene has Leigh Anne interrupting a football practice to have a one on one with Michael, who somehow doesn't seem to be grasping the fundamentals of his linebacker position (uh, hello? You're supposed to knock the crap out of someone on the opposing offence). Leigh Anne's strategy for him is to imagine his team as family members and his job is to protect them from harm. Presto! The brilliant metaphor pays instant dividends for him and a roll of the eyes from me.
Some reviews of The Blind Side have heavily criticized it for presenting Leigh Anne as a great white saviour, rescuing the poor black kid from the wrong side of the tracks. This I find laughable. The facts are the facts and people who are looking for racist motives where none exist from a family film are taking their entertainment way too seriously. Are some people that cynical that a heartwarming story about one human being selflessly changing another's life can't be, well, just that? To my eyes and ears, there seems to be an appropriate amount of discussion in the movie about cultural differences and race. In-depth examinations on the topic are best suited to other forums.
Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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