The Blind Side
By Luke Pals
November 30, 2009
The Blind Side is the true story of the adoption of the young, destitute Michael Oher by Leigh Ann and Sean Tuohy (Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw) and Oher’s rise to football stardom. Based on the book, The Blind Side: The Evolution of a Game, you might expect a sports film, but what you get is something else entirely. In the opening minutes, Leigh Ann’s voice-over details the evolution of the game through a second-by-second account of the infamous Lawrence Taylor’s ability to destroy quarterbacks. As a result, the offensive left tackle, the big man protecting the quarterback’s blind side, becomes the second highest paid position in the NFL. And, of course, that's what position Oher happens to play.
Typically, if a sports movie is not so great, a critic can at least say “this one is for the fans.” But writer-director John Lee Hancock (The Alamo) made The Blind Side for fans of Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw, not for football fans. The homeless gentle giant with a GPA less than 1, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), who would become a star left tackle for the University of Mississippi and drafted by the Baltimore Ravens for 2009, seems to have these stars (of the celebrity-type) aligned against his story. Real sports films follow the thrill of victory out of the agony of defeat, the training and honing of the athlete through sweat and tears. Even if life is not all sport, the challenge against the athlete becomes a metaphor for life.
But this story is an odd combination of Bullock comedy and Oscar-baiting social issue film; maybe not so unfortunately, the Bullock comedy wins out. The racism is always portrayed with stereotyped characters you love to hate, well outside the family. Leigh Ann has no less than four high-octane dialogue smack-downs against various representatives of society, including a gangbanger with fresh scars from a physical smack-down that Oher gave him in the preceding scene. So sometimes it is just better to laugh through the “serious” parts, too.
Even for a comedy (or especially for a comedy these days), the family is a little too perfect; the young son S.J. (Jae Head) is particularly cheeky, but still realistic in his innocent enthusiasm. Despite the underdog athlete story and the obvious recipe for conflict in the marriage between headstrong Leigh Ann and her quietly angered, understanding husband Sean, the story never decides on a dramatic, central conflict. Instead, it tries to be all things to all people through a cloyingly episodic coverage of family and community leaders going through half-changes of heart. Maybe that’s all the good folks needed, but why did I pay $11.50?
Are the filmmakers uncomfortable with racism? With the fact that this is a very wealthy, white Christian family? Hancock touches on these issues repeatedly, but superficially. In order to show the importance of family, which is the ultimate theme here, you have to show a deeper struggle within the family. The positive light shed on the family seems to be a preoccupation of sorts—but not to promote the Christian experience—to keep a distance from its complexity. Further, the Christian school contains just one grumpy English teacher that finally has a change of heart, but we never see any conflict between Oher and his fellow students or teammates.
Near the end we see, along with Oher, an impossibly short glimpse of a stone etching with Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible,” or something like it, because it’s too fast to read. Edits like that make me think that somewhere in the mix, the director, studio, producers and actors' agents are not on the same page. The surface Christianity seems an aesthetic match with the surface-level treatment of many of the film's themes. However, we can also thank Bullock and McGraw for their participation, because conventional Hollywood wisdom might dictate this Michael Oher story could not be made without them.
The Blind Side reminded me of Notorious, the biography of rap artist Christopher Wallace (the Notorious B.I.G.)—not for the underdogs who become larger-than-life talents—but for the mothers’ influence on their sons’ stories. When Wallace calls his mom from prison and they recite Psalm 23 together, it just destroyed me. Notorious was a mother’s unashamed prayer for her son’s tragic life. Even if The Blind Side is a victory story, you know there is a powerful, prayerful moment somewhere in Michael Oher’s story too, but it got star-crossed.