The Blind Side
- Written and directed by John Lee Hancock
- Starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Jae Head, Lily Collins, Kim Dickens, Ray McKinnon and Kathy Bates
- Classification: PG
We've been through lots of shameless melodrama with Sandra Bullock: Everyone remembers that crowded bus with a ticking bomb ( Speed ); then there was the handsome, imaginary boyfriend in a coma ( WhileYou Were Sleeping ); not to mention the beauty pageant booby-trapped with terrorists ( Miss Congeniality ).
That's okay, though. Movies have been about shameless melodrama since D.W. Griffith packed Lillian Gish off on an ice floe in Way Down East (1920). And you can say this about Bullock: Through all her sweaty travails, the actress has displayed sure comic timing and infectious gumption. As Huck Finn said of girls he liked: "She's got sand in her."
This time out, however, Sandy has gone too far. Though her latest, The Blind Side , is based on a true story, it's also a preposterous fairy tale - a football story that deserves a penalty flag every other play for piling on the sentiment.
Big Mike Oher (Quinton Aaron) is a refrigerator-sized orphan who is adopted by a virtuous Steel Magnolia. That would be Bullock's character, Leigh Anne Tuohy, who first sees Michael wandering lost in the rain, and out of the goodness of her heart gives the African-American teenager the spare bedroom of her family's Memphis mansion.
Before long, he's being tutored by Miss Sue (Kathy Bates). Leigh Anne, being from the South and therefore a football fanatic, also takes an interest in the boy's eventual professional career, showing him how to pass block.
Soon, college recruiters and fame beckon. "You're changing that boy's life," a friend tells Leigh Anne. "No, he's changing mine," she says, her eyes going moist.
A corny line, for sure. Also, too true. At times Mike seems absent in what is supposed to be his story. This is not a movie about a poor black kid making good so much as one about a rich white woman feeling good about helping someone less fortunate.
"Is this some kind of white guilt thing?" one of Leigh Anne's pals remarks at a catty ladies' luncheon.
No, it's something more vexing: self-congratulatory Hollywood liberalism - the kind of high-minded hokum that has marred movie meditations on race relations since Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy so graciously invited Sidney Poitier's parents over to dinner way back in 1967.
Even the film's big crisis of conscience - does Leigh Anne take in Michael to persuade him to attend her own football-factory alma mater, Ole Miss? - only incidentally involves her adopted son.
The Blind Side doesn't even guess at who Big Mike might be. The teenager has no interest in girls. Doesn't drink or hang around friends - bad or good. He's a 300-pound black smiley face who likes playing football.
The film is built to please, and is often entertaining. Especially the middle sequence, in which 110-pound Leigh Anne plays pulling guard for Big Mike, flattening anyone who stands in the way of her boy getting all the attention and help she feels he deserves.
Watching Bullock push family members, college administrators and violent drug dealers around like so much stick furniture, we're reminded what a skilled comedienne the actress can be. Any American network interested in resuscitating the now-virtually-extinct domestic sitcom should give her agent a call.
Still, the knock against Bullock's movies remains the same: All too often, the only good part in her films is her own. In The Blind Side , husband Sean Tuohy's (Tim McGraw) only real function is to peel out his fat wallet at restaurants and shake his handsome head, signalling "she's quite a gal" after Leigh Anne goes on yet another rampage.
What an unpleasant surprise, then, that Bullock's new film gives over so much screen time to a freckle-faced little child actor who could and should, at any point here, be arrested for mugging. Jae Head as little S.J. Tuohy is a full-throttle scene-stealer. Any sensible director would have made him put them back.
Then again, The Blind Side probably indulges Head because the film is afraid to allow Big Mike to be alone with teenaged sister Collins Tuohy (Lily Collins).
What a drag that, one year into Obama's presidency, American films remain so careful about depicting black actors. There are more around, to be sure. The new action film 2012 has three black leads (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Glover and Thandie Newton). And, of course, Quinton Aaron shows up here as Big Mike.
Still, not one of them is at all interesting. It's almost as if directors hurry past the black actors' scenes, afraid of making a mistake.
Special to The Globe and Mail