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The Blind Side

A feel-good sports movie is derailed by its star power.

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.


Luke Pals


Luke Pals reviewed…

I love the passion of this comment. Not sure it addresses the critique presented in the review. The racism was dealt with superficially, not wrongly. (maybe stingaree reacts to the comments, not the review?) I think strongest critiques were levelled at dramatic issues, like avoiding the individual Michael Oher's experience, in family and athletic experience, with his peers, his team, his coach. Didn't like the emphasis on the mom Leigh Anne so much. You could criticize review for wanting a different movie, or unfairly disliking Bullock, but not being idiotic with racism. Does watching Bullock do verbal smackdowns against racist stereotypes get the Christian ideals flowing? That's scarry to me, but maybe it works for some. I thought getting into more nitty-gritty spiritual struggle with Michael, with true Christian content would be a spectacular opportunity in this story, but I felt it missed for the sake of Bullock-style comedy.


brownies24 reviewed…

Why would they try to portray that? This was a true story. There was no portraying at all. Even though it was a true story, that doesn't mean that the directors were trying to give that impression. Why can't people just watch a movie with a good story and be okay with it instead of always having to find something racist about it? I can guarantee you that Michael never took your assumption from his situation during his hard times. He did not think "Why did God give me all these white people to help me? Can I only do good in life with the help of white people?". Of course he didn't. He was happy that someone, just anyone, helped him. If I remember correctly there was a black man at the beginning of the movie who helped Michael get into the school to begin with. People wonder why there is so much racism in the world. Well, it's because of people like you who have to make everything racists.


Name reviewed…

Do you personally know the makers of this movie? Maybe they wanted to give audiences a good, encouraging story about a young black boy who took advantage of opportunities that were given to him in order to succeed despite the terrible hand he had been dealt. Black people help white people, white people help black people, black people help black people and white people help white people. You're totally missing the mark and because of your view on this racism continues to live on because people like you continue to make assumptions like this one. Even though you are the very person who wants there not to be any racism, you continue to fuel the fire.


Lucy reviewed…

Could your dislike have more to do that this is about a wealthy Southern white republican family falling in love with an African-American kid from the hood, and its all that progressives abhor and believe impossible according to the lefty stereo-type of such a family? Is it just not possible that they could have done the right thing without all the racial tension that you expect?


Debbie Kelly reviewed…

I'm a social worker who's been working with kids in foster care since the mid 1980's. I cried (when not cracking up at Leigh Ann Tuohy) for almost this entire movie. Weeped and sobbed, truthfully. That would not have happened if it were the unrealistic, superficial treatment the reviewer claims. Usually I can hardly stand to watch a movie or television program about foster children because they are so ridiculously unrealistic. The Blindside was truth. I weeped for all the Michaels I'm working with right now who don't have a fiercely determined family like the Tuohys. What those people did for him is absolutely remarkable. Please, please do not diminish it just because every single angle and element of the situation was not thoroughly portrayed. There wasn't time for that. I'm sorry that you were so distracted by the celebrities and the tired stereotypes of our culture to miss the depth of what happened to these people's lives. And believe it or not, sometimes there really aren't major race issues, marital issues, and parenting issues. Sometimes it's just like what you saw. Believe it.

As far as the scripture, it was shown long enough, and often enough, for me to notice that it was written incorrectly. It said, "With men this is possible. With God all things are possible." I kept looking at it over and over to be sure I was seeing it correctly and amused that not a single person involved in the movie apparently knows the verse.

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