The Blind Side
Previews are important, people. The cliché states you never get a second chance to make a first impression (thank you, Head & Shoulders), and the first impression of THE BLIND SIDE came in the form of horrid previews. All I remembered was Sandra Bullock showcasing a horribly overplayed Southern accent, Kathy Bates doing a fist bump, and the Bullock sassily coaching her boy to being tough on the field. I then remember giving the movie the thumbs down (I didn’t talk trash about it because I don’t even talk during the previews. Learn from me, people). Then, Sandra Bullock takes home a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for her performance as the sassy Leigh Anne Tuohy, and Oscar nominations come out and she’s seriously in the conversation for taking home one of those gold statues and the movie itself is one of the lucky ten nominees. So, I checked out a private screening (there was no one else in the theater. I love Tuesday night at the movies) and for the first hour, I felt I’d judged them all wrong, and was actually leaning toward the higher end of the ten point scale. But as more of the football story begins to evolve, it becomes more cartoon cliché than good storytelling. Also, this movie has begun my crusade to abolish the fist bump. I don’t care if the President and First Lady gave it national prominence; this movie plays it out all on its own.
The movie has an original opening, with a brief tutorial on offensive tackles and a nice homage to Lawrence Taylor. Then we are introduced to Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a young, very large kid who is trying to get into a private Christian school to get out of the Memphis public school system. His size convinces the football coach (Ray McKinnon) to lobby for his entry, despite his .6 GPA, and he goes to school but has no place to live. Enter Leigh Anne Tuohy, the wife of multiple franchise owner Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw), and famous Southern interior decorator. She sees Big Mike walking the streets with no home to go to – thanks to a crack fiend mother – and lets him crash on their couch. As she learns more about this gentle giant, the bonds grow tighter, and though the relationship grows rapidly, it is not forced and Michael moves in with a room of his own. His grades slightly improve as teachers (Kim Dickens, who we loved in “Deadwood”) take an interest in him as well, and he is able to play football. His gentle nature takes away from his size on the field, until Leigh Anne convinces him to think of the team as his family and protect them as such (a technique not unlike Adam Sandler’s in THE WATERBOY). After a few football montages, the college scouts get interested, and actual college coaches arrive at the Tuohy’s door (Lou Holtz, Nick Saban). This sets into motion a late subplot involving boosters and illegal recruiting, which is actually a clever device to make Michael challenge the altruistic nature of what the Tuohy’s have done for him. Since we all saw Michael Oher in a Baltimore Ravens uniform this year, we know how it ended up for him, and the film ends with uplifting pictures of his draft pick with the Tuohy family there at his side.
Quinton Aaron does very well in a quiet performance that carries most of the film. He plays the quiet scenes as a reactionary, led by others, but when he is challenged or his family threatened he turns on the menace convincingly. Tim McGraw does little but react to his wife’s decision making, but I kept focusing on his fake hair. Kathy Bates plays the wacky tutor brought on late to push Mike’s grades to scholarship level, using her unorthodox methods to inspire…like hitting him with a spoon. She is also guilty of playing out the fist bump, but that’s part of her cool, unorthodox style which instead comes off as contrived and unfitting an actress with a gold statue of her own. One of the worst pieces though is the kid, Jae Head. He’s supposed to win us over with cuteness and impish behavior but instead is just annoying and tries too hard. His participation makes the film seem more sophomoric than the plot, which could have been formulaic, as the preview suggested, but is actually structured well enough to be engaging. But Kathy Bates and the kid work against it.
As for Sandra Bullock, she actually plays the majority of this role very well. As she enters, she plays her role small, but with instances of character that make us care about her, even like her. When she first hears the hard luck stories of young Mike Oher, she is affected but never oversells the sympathy. She actually makes an effort to remove herself from sight when she is overcome with emotion. But as she storms onto the football field to assist in coaching or mouths off to employees at the DMV she puts on the Southern attitude too heavy and it seems more like a caricature than a character. She has a scene with the street toughs from Mike’s old neighborhood that most people like but strains reality. The writing played too much to the crowd, trying too hard to deliver on emotions and only hitting on 50% of the time.
I respect John Lee Hancock for writing and directing a true story he wanted to tell, and some of the choices – structure-wise – are good and quite original. I especially liked how he ended the film with pics of the real family. But the contrived pieces of the script and the acting that we can see is trying to elicit emotions is just too much. That’s not to say emotions aren’t experienced, and this movie will get to you at times, but the glaring moments at which they overact or oversell take the movie down too many notches.