Rating: 1 star (out of 4)
Hollywood studios like to propagate the idea that romantic comedies are suitable for both men and women. Blind Side isn’t a rom-com, but doubtless this idea still came to them—hey, let’s combine Sandra Bullock (the women) and football (the men) to draw in maximum viewers. Add the holiday season and a feel-good true story and you’ve got yourself a sure box office winner.
And, indeed, Blind Side has, along with The Proposal (and, I suppose, All About Eve) helped make 2009 the best box-office year of Bullock’s career, which must make the ineptitude of these films forgivable to those in the suits. In this true story adaptation, Bullock plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, a Memphis socialite living the good life, thanks largely to the fact that her husband Sean (Tim McGraw) owns 85 Taco Bells. She takes an interest in a student who was recently admitted to their kids’ private Christian academy, the imposing football player Michael Oher (newcomer Quinton Aaron).
Michael’s life reads like a fairly typical sob story—crack-addled mother, no father, never been educated properly—but despite that and his overwhelming size, he’s calm and polite. Leigh Anne takes him under her wing (and roof) and helps him hone his football skills, helping him ultimately go on to receive a college scholarship and a first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Ravens. An interesting story, but, sadly, in telling it, director and writer John Lee Hancock utilizes all of the clichés and wooden characters that surrounded his last sports flick, The Rookie.
Is anything real or believable in this movie? Certainly not Michael’s first night in Leigh Anne’s house, where she plops him on the couch because the guest room has boxes in it; please, woman, that house has five guest rooms. And not the football scenes, which hit perhaps a new low for Hollywood. The film apparently wants us to believe that one excruciating scene of Leigh Anne playing coach for a few minutes qualifies as Michael being taught how to play; of course, there’s a lot more to playing lineman than size, but oh well. I guess that’s not important in a movie that wants you to believe that one good block means the running back can saunter in from 70 yards away for a touchdown, or that referees really wouldn’t be able to come up with a penalty for shoving someone over the field boundary (it’s called unnecessary roughness, guys).
And it doesn’t help that Michael’s coach (Ray McKinnon), uh, isn’t exactly Billy Bob Thornton or Denzel Washington. He’s not a good enough actor to make us understand that, when he sincerely pitches Michael’s school admission to the deans, he’s furtively concerned about his own team’s success. (We assume that to be the case, independent of his acting, but when including the acting we’re just confused.) He has plenty of company, though, as good acting is hard to be found here. As laconic Michael, Aaron is fine, but McGraw and Bullock can’t find any kind of true emotions. McGraw looks like someone behind the camera is giving him instructions at all times (where is the talent from Friday Night Lights?), and I can’t for the life of me figure out why so many critics are calling Bullock’s performance her career best. I often like her, but this may be the worst I’ve ever seen. In her attempt to break away from her breezy roles and look “solemn” or “serious,” she transforms herself into an utter statue, completely lacking in human emotion or realism. She looks awkward in just about every scene, as though she’s reading the words for the first time.
McGraw and Bullock certainly aren’t helped by a script that paints the family dynamic in unrealistic and annoying ways. The writers think they can show spousal love with vague, bland irritations—the ‘I can’t stand how she does this, but that’s why I love her’ nuisances common to such films—and they introduce yet another annoying little kid. Jae Head’s young SJ almost manages to attain the mind-blowingly irritating level of Hayden Panettiere in Remember the Titans. (Largely because of this, it was to my immense relief that Leigh Anne’s daughter wasn’t a typically “angsty” Hollywood teenager.)
And the script also makes a mockery out of painful stereotypes—both black (everyone in the ‘projects’ where Michael’s mom lives) and white (heartless rich bitches that Leigh Anne lunches with). That’s in between its presentation of such bon mots as “You’re changing his life”—“No, he’s changing mine” and Michael’s groan-inducing, predictable-but-unbelievable “Don’t lie to me” retort to Leigh Anne. In your face, woman!
Amidst all this, the plot is a mess, going fully sideways after what feels like the climax into an utterly unnecessary final scene with Michael at the projects, topped in absurdity only by Leigh Anne going back there—disregarding Michael’s earlier words of caution by wearing a ridiculously provocative dress—and getting in the face of one of the thugs in a move that makes you want to throw something at the screen. Such moments are particularly troubling because they seem to be replacing what might have been meaningful scenes: by the end, one wonders why no more mention was ever made of Michael’s briefly seen brother or his mother—did he never say anything about them as he was preparing to attend college?
It’s remarkable that this movie needs more scenes, given that there are so many gratuitous ones that bloat the running time. Most movies of this ilk last—as they should—about 90 minutes, yet, for reasons passing understanding, Blind Side runs two-and-a-quarter hours—but then again, most everything about this movie was done for reasons passing understanding.