Thursday, December 9, 2010

THE BLIND SIDE (2009): Feel Good Football Movie

Every year or two a film is released that movie audiences flock to see that’s inspirational and based on a real life story.  That a film is “too good to be true” never occurs to those that enjoy these movies.  We want to believe that we’re viewing a true depiction of real events in the same way we want to believe in miracles.  We would think that movie audiences like the rest of the world would be more cynical and increasingly skeptical due to greater access of global news and blog sites that expose nearly everything.  In fact, the opposite seems to be the case.  In recent years we’ve endured Cinderella Man, Rudy, Erin Brockovich and Seabiscuit.  The latest incantation came in a movie called The Blind Side.

In The Blind Side, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her husband Sean (Tim McGraw), a rich couple from Memphis, come to know and love a large, black and homeless teenage boy named Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron).  Leigh Anne and Sean’s son, S.J. (Jae Head) originally befriended the hapless Michael at a private religious school that he attends.  The only reason Michael is even allowed to attend this school is due to the prompting of school officials by Coach Cotton who is impressed with Michael’s athletic abilities.  When Leigh Anne discovers the boy is homeless, she invites him to sleep on their couch, eventually provides him with a room of his own and makes the offer to adopt him.  The support of Michael by this family causes great consternation among relatives and friends in a mostly white neighborhood in the south, but the couple – and in particular Leigh Anne – are not deterred.  They gradually break through the boy’s defenses and instill in him a sense of trust.  At the same time, they provide valuable lessons to the boy that he is able to inculcate onto the playing field and that also enable him to avoid all the pitfalls generally associated with a youth from his background.  Thus, a player with incredible raw talent but little practical knowledge of football becomes, under their tutelage, one of the most recruited high school left tackles in the nation.  One major obstacle to his attending the college of his choice is the boy’s grades.  Thus, the couple (at their own expense) brings in a tutor named Miss Sue (Kathy Bates) to pull the boy’s grades up from a 1.7 to 2.53 GPA.   Thus the Tuohy’ husband and wife, large contributors and alumni of Old Miss, are able to send Michael on to their alma mater (after accusations of possible recruiting violations on the part of the Tuohys in relation to Michael were dismissed).  Michael, whose biological mother was a drug addict and who never knew his real life father, is drafted number one by the Baltimore Ravens in the 2009 draft.

The Blind Side is not a bad Hollywood film.  The intention of Director John Lee Hancock was to make moviegoers gush and root for this large boy that was never presented with many opportunities to get ahead.  And the movie accomplishes this goal throughout the 128 minutes of film footage.  That the movie cheats in doing this will probably surprise no one that understands the motivations of Hollywood film studios.  That we have Sandra Bullock in a short skirt sassing back hardened gang members is not entirely believable.  That Michael’s transition from homelessness to living in a rich suburban home occupied by white people appears to have been accomplished so seamlessly also belies credibility.  There must have been some difficulties that Michael and the Tuohys encountered that we were not made aware of.  Yet such exaggerations are certainly no worse than in any other movie that is supposed to depict real life events.   One of the movie’s greatest assets is that The Blind Side is an overall pleasurable movie to watch with little if any unpleasantness.  If I was to find any fault with the film it is strictly because The Blind Side is so much like every other movie and doesn’t do anything to disturb our tranquility.

There have been a large number of movies that have addressed the issue of racism, but almost none have ever examined the issue in depth (though there are Academy Nominated movies like Crash and Babel that have made the clumsy pretense of examining racism in depth).  And with the exception of the documentary Hoop Dreams, no movie has looked at institutional racism realistically.  Racists in films almost always stereotypically come from the Deep South, talk and act like rednecks and consistently display their ignorance without provocation.  The Blind Side is no different from any other movie in this respect.  We have the relatives and football fans making crass remarks about Michael, and the prim and proper southern ladies discussing the improprieties of allowing a young black man into one of their homes.   If only racism was that easy to locate there would be a better chance that it could be sifted out.   Unfortunately, not all real life racists overtly express their leanings, and a large percentage of us lack self-awareness that would allow us to analyze our own racist thoughts.  The existence of racism transcends culture and politics.  Many liberals are guilty for assuming that they are not a part of the problem.  Many conservatives are guilty of ignoring that a problem even exists.  The Blind Side in simplifying the problem may be catering to audience members who want to think that they harbor no racist thoughts whatsoever.  After all, most moviegoers are not rednecks or gossips suspicious of any member of another race as depicted in the film.

Anyway, again The Blind Side is typical, crowd pleasing nonsense.  Wouldn’t it have been nice if Michael, the object of everyone’s affection, showed a little more of a subversive side and provided more of a difficult challenge for the couple?  Michael is portrayed as the most submissive of characters.  Michael never truly challenged anyone in the entire film.  As a result, instead of focusing on him we end up focusing on the good looking and feisty young housewife played by Sandra Bullock.  Audiences unquestioningly adore a smart talking yet attractive and feminine female character.  Bullock, never described as the greatest of actresses, does a decent job of pulling this part off.  Maybe because we’ve been treated with so much that’s incredibly worse in Hollywood, standards for what passes as a good movie are fairly low.  But when a forty year old woman can move her hips like Sandra Bullock, the men in the audience seem mesmerized and the women wish that they could be like her.  That almost becomes enough to make The Blind Side more enjoyable than the average film … for some people.  This movie is a one woman show and makes the more inspirational side of the story seem almost like a distraction.  And all other performers in The Blind Side are merely there to play supporting roles for the leading lady.
January 5, 2010
© Robert S. Miller 2010

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