The Blind Side (2009)
“Based on the extraordinary true story”
Director: John Lee Hancock
Cast: Quinton Aaron, Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw
Synopsis: The story of Michael Oher, a homeless and traumatized boy who became an All American football player and first round NFL draft pick with the help of a caring woman and her family.
Somewhere out there in the US there lives a privileged white woman with the gumption to verbally beat down a perpetually angry black drug dealer on his home turf by returning his own verbal abuse, but you can rest assured that woman isn’t Leigh Anne Tuohy, the feisty mother of two portrayed in The Blind Side by Sandra Bullock (Miss Congeniality). Nevertheless, that’s what we see as the indomitable Mrs. Tuohy ventures alone into the ghettoes in search of her adopted son Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron). The fact such an encounter never really happened, pretty much sums up everything that’s wrong both with The Blind Side and movies based on reality in general. Too often, they’re pure fantasy disguised as fact, thereby leaving themselves open to all manner of accusations such as those of condescending racism which have been widely levelled at this movie.
Tuohy, an interior designer, successfully juggles a challenging career with the raising of two spirited children, Collins (Lily Collins — Abduction) and SJ (Jae Head). Her husband, Sean (Tim McGraw) runs a highly successful Taco Bell franchise which enables the couple to live in pampered splendour in a rambling mansion. He’s the sort of totally compliant husband whom many woman probably wish they had but whom every man dreads becoming. I mean, really, this guy is such a wet blanket that he long ago gave up questioning or resisting any of his wife’s decisions. But then, Leigh-Anne Tuohy, as depicted in this picture, is the kind of uncompromising, assertive and self-confident woman with whom only men like Sean could possibly happily co-habit.
Collins and SJ attend the Wingate Christian School, whose newest pupil is Michael Oher, a hulking giant of a youth. Michael isn’t a typical example of the school’s pupils: he’s withdrawn, apparently slow to learn, and black — but Wingate’s football coach (Ray McKinnon) believes his incredible size will be to his team’s benefit on the football field. However, Michael is an orphan, separated from his crack-addicted mother as a child, and is sleeping rough in a laundrette even as he receives this Christian schooling. One cold night, Leigh-Anne Tuohy and her family spot Michael, dressed only in t-shirt and shorts wandering the streets and invite him to their home. Although it is only supposed to be for one night, Michael ends up becoming a part of the Tuohy family, and under the intensive coaching of his younger ‘brother’ SJ, becomes a football player to be reckoned with.
Apparently, the real-life Michael Oher was none too pleased about being portrayed on screen as this kind of slow, reserved, Forrest Gump-like figure, and it’s easy to understand why. Aaron barely has half a dozen lines during the movie’s first hour, which compounds the impression that this movie is more a congratulatory reflection on the altruistic beneficence of Tuohy than the inspirational story of a disadvantaged youth who overcame the poverty into which he was born. That’s not to say that Leigh-Anne Tuohy doesn’t deserve her share of the praise for the part she played in Oher’s success — it’s just that one feels that Oher deserves at least some of the credit too, which he doesn’t really receive in The Blind Side.
Most of us have learned to take those ‘based on reality’ tags with a pinch of salt, and we can accept that sometimes it’s necessary to spice up the truth in order to deliver a more audience-friendly experience, but The Blind Side delivers scene after scene of incidents which are either clearly fabricated (such as that laughable encounter with the homey) or embellished to such a degree that they bear little or no resemblance to the real-life incidents on which they are based. These scenes are so cliche-ridden that they stand out as fake.
The Blind Side is entertaining enough. It’s watchable, even though it’s the kind of story that deserves the TV movie treatment rather than a theatrical release. Sandra Bullock delivers a decent — but not Oscar-worthy — performance in the central role, although the ballsy nature of her character grows increasingly difficult to stomach as the film trots out repeated examples of just what a gutsy fighter she is. And the inordinate number of close-ups she receives leaves us in no doubt that this might be a movie about Michael Oher, but it’s a Sandra Bullock movie.