Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Blind Side (2009)

I apologize for the unoriginal titles lately. That will be fixed soon, since hopefully my subsequent posts will be written when I am not half-conscious.
Last night I saw The Blind Side, as part of my ongoing quest to see as many Oscar-nominated films as possible before the March 7 ceremony (I've now seen eight of the ten Best Picture nominees). I have to admit, last week I blasted the film in my Oscar preview without having seen it, which was not good of me, and I apologize.
Now that I have seen it, I can blast it guilt-free and with evidence.
The film tells the remarkable true story of Michael Oher, who rose from homelessness in early-aughts Memphis to become a first-round NFL draft pick as a left tackle from the University of Mississippi, thanks in part to the Tuhoy family for taking him in and raising him as their own son. Through it all, Oher conquers his rough beginnings to succeed in both school and football.
Oher's story is incredible, but The Blind Side embellishes it with so much inspirational-sports-movie-sentimentality that one has to wonder whether or not Oher himself is a Hollywood creation. At first, no one but the Tuhoys believe in him, as his teachers all give up on him as soon as they see him. His mother, of course, is a victim of drug abuse who is never painted with a bad note, and even though the projects that Oher comes from are supposed to be the roughest in Memphis, they come off as nothing worse than a place for people who like to act tough to hang out and just, you know, chill.
The Tuhoys themselves are one of the more well-off families in Memphis. Lee Ann, played by Sandra Bullock, runs the household, while her husband Sean, played by an unrecognizable Tim McGraw, merely smiles and supports her. In fact, no one really questions Lee Ann, and that's mostly because she won't let them. Their children, Collins and SJ, are models of good behavior. The Tuhoys are perfect. Way too perfect.
Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw
And that's where the movie hits one of its two big sour notes. Its true that Oher and the Tuhoys come from two different sides of town, but the movie presents them as so different that they might as well be from different planets. The Tuhoys are able to provide Oher with everything with ease, even a brand new truck. There's no conflict there: the Tuhoys accept him and he accepts them without question. It's as if he needs them in order to rise above his situation.
Which brings me to my biggest complaint. In my Oscar post I called The Blind Side "racist," and indeed it is, though I'm positive its unintentional. At one point, while Lee Ann is dining with friends, one of them asks her, "Are you sure its not...you know...white guilt?" The way The Blind Side presents Oher's story is that its totally white guilt. Its difficult to ignore as you watch the movie and notice that Michael Oher is the only black character in the whole movie that you're supposed to like, with the rest being the antagonists that he is up against. Again, I'm sure its not intentional, but even the best intentions don't cover the racial overtones of the film.
This can mostly be blamed on director John Lee Hancock's script, which often feels like a mash-up of sports movie cliches. His pedestrian direction does the film no favors either, though he does know how to stage a good football game. And even though I've said nothing too good about the movie so far, I will give it some credit: you will be moved by Oher's success, and want to cheer him on as he progresses.
Quinton Aaron's performance as Oher is a mixed bag. As a relative newcomer, Aaron plays Oher as a gentle, mostly mute giant. For the first half of the movie he doesn't do or say much, and kind of feels like a racial caricature (there it is again) of a homeless black teenager. Once Oher begins to open up, Aaron does too, giving hints at what the film could have been.
Instead, a lot of the film's focus is on Lee Ann Tuhoy. Bullock, as I have said before, is not one of my favorite actresses, but she gives a good performance here as she doesn't play so much as become Lee Ann. Lee Ann is a fascinating character, but the film never felt as if it wanted to delve deep into who Lee Ann really is; instead, we just get the same basic mannerisms and insight of her. You can tell Bullock is making the best of what she's given, and the film could have used a little more exploration of what makes Lee Ann tick. Is it an Oscar-worthy performance? Maybe; I still have some more snubbed performances to see. But its a lot better than what Bullock's career has consisted of previously, and who knows, maybe I'll warm to her in the future.
It's easy to see why The Blind Side was so popular: it played straight to America's heartland, full of inspiration and good old fashioned values. The problem is, its rote with cliche and plays way too safe, proving to be a mishandled opportunity to tell a truly incredible story.

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