(by Dustin Putman
"The Blind Side" is based on the non-fiction book by Michael Lewis and inspired by the true story of Michael Oher, a graduate of the University of Mississippi who was recently drafted by the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. With an estranged father who passed away and a deadbeat mother on the crack pipe, Michael was poorly educated and virtually homeless at the age of seventeen, barely squeaking by at the Memphis-based Christian school he had been accepted to. Parents Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, whose children Collins and S.J. also went to the same school, welcomed Michael into their home when he had nowhere else to go. What was to only be a very temporary setup turned more permanent as Michael became an integral part of the family. With their guidance, he was able to raise his GPA to a 2.5 and receive a football scholarship to Ole Miss, the Tuohy's alma mater. It's an inspiring story, no doubt, and the Tuohys sound like kind, generous people. One can even accept that the initial idea to turn Oher's life into a Hollywood movie was made with pure enough intentions. Unfortunately, that is a far as a good heart can carry things when the finished film in question proves to be nothing more than offensive, self-satisfied treacle. Article continues below
Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (2004's "The Alamo"), "The Blind Side" is what might have resulted if the stupendously powerful recent "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire" (another film about a troubled African-American teen) had been watered down by studio execs and gone disastrously wrong. Gooey, sugary and artificially sweetened enough to cause tooth decay, this faux feel-good slice of malarkey is instantly proud of itself without earning the right to be. Bereft of a backbone, Hancock has turned the onscreen Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) into a big teddy bear of simple means and no complexity, and treats the Tuohy family one and all as a bunch of saints—make that very wealthy saints, since their home is a mansion and they live off of the seventy fast food franchises Sean owns—who don't have a single flaw among them. It's meant to be cute that Leigh Anne doesn't know to stay put in the car when she drives Michael to his mother's apartment in the projects, and cuter still when, later on, she stands up for herself with all the resourceful sass she can muster after being called a bitch by one of the trouble-making squatters who hangs around outside.
That Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock) and Sean (Tim McGraw) are southern Republicans and proud members of the NRA is mentioned in quick passing, their lives seemingly revolving around being do-gooders who are accepting of everyone and get along with just about anybody. Heck, before he has even met Michael or knows who he is, Sean is seen forlornly stopping to look at him cleaning the gym stands after a school function, no doubt silently thinking to himself how he might be able to help this tall, large black kid with a penchant for tidying up. Kids S.J. (Jae Head) and Collins (Lilly Collins) are just as angelic, with S.J. befriending Michael the moment he sees him in the school yard and Collins foregoing her friends to sit and study in the library with Michael. There is no jealousy involved in Leigh Anne's growing obsession with Michael or her ultimate wish to adopt him, her kids blissful to go along with it as they otherwise take a backseat to her new son's needs.
Meandering as a narrative that never can be one thing when twenty will do, "The Blind Side" hits upon plot points like they're going out of style. Michael's issues in school and his biology teacher's (Kim Dickens) rallying of his true abilities is abruptly tossed away when the teacher character, Mrs. Boswell, disappears never to be seen again. His relationship with the Tuohys plays out on the surface, without depth, his immediate ability to inspire Leigh Anne signified by her insistence that the family eat Thanksgiving dinner together at the table rather than in front of the television. When football finally enters the equation and Michael joins the team, it's almost an afterthought. Does Michael even like playing the sport, or does he do it because others expect it of someone of his size? As depicted in the film, he certainly has no innate passion for it. Even so, he consequently captures the interest from university scouts. The catch? Michael must raise his grades. Cue a plucky tutor, Miss Sue (Kathy Bates), who has the adorable lug earning A and B grades in no time. If that weren't enough, the picture keeps going with more material. There's a car accident that places Michael and S.J. in danger. There's a greatest-hits montage of past scenes played to the reading of Michael's essay on honor and courage. There's the suspicions from the NCAA that the Tuohys are Ole Miss boosters who have raised Michael with the purpose of getting him to play for the college team. There's the falling-out between Michael and Leigh Anne when he questions her motives, followed by the desperate late-night search around town to find him and bring him back home. Eventually, there's even a good-bye scene at Michael's university of choice, with Michael telling a misty-eyed Leigh Anne that he needs a proper hug before he'll let her drive away.
Playing a matriarch rather than her usual romantic comedy parts, Sandra Bullock (2009's "All About Steve") settles comfortably into the role and accent of Leigh Anne Tuohy. With a screenplay that doesn't make the viewer want to claw their ears out, Bullock would actually be a scene-stealing pistol. Alas, Leigh Anne is portrayed as unblemished and free of personal conflict. Because of that, the actress has a tough time making her very interesting. As husband Sean, Tim McGraw (2008's "Four Christmases") embodies a character who couldn't be more blandly nice and wishy-washy if he tried. There is no sizzle to the scenes between Leigh Anne and Sean; their marriage may be perfect, but the actors' chemistry is as scorching as a wet blanket.
Giving child actors a bad name when so many recent ones have impressed (i.e., Max Records in "Where the Wild Things Are," Kodi Smit-McPhee in "The Road"), Jae Head (2008's "Hancock") is so sickeningly precocious and upbeat as S.J. that visions of strangling him are not out of the question. As Miss Sue, Kathy Bates (2008's "Revolutionary Road") has nothing to do in a nothing part; her talents are so squandered here it should be a crime. Finally, Quenton Aaron (2008's "Be Kind Rewind") is, sad to say, underwhelming as Michael Oher. The story is about him and lives or dies with him, and Aaron doesn't exhibit the chops to pull it off. He's likable enough, but he's also wooden and inconsistent in his line readings, unable to delve into his character. Watching him, it feels like someone is feeding Aaron his dialogue from behind the camera.
If a Hallmark greeting card could throw up, the puke would come in the form of "The Blind Side." Manipulative and saccharine, directionless and scatter-brained, pat and never-ending, the film has precious few moments of authenticity. One of them, wherein Leigh Anne reads a children's book to S.J. and Michael while Collins secretly listens from the hallway and reconnects to her own fading childhood, has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, but nonetheless comes off as honest and kind of touching. When this small scene comes, it is almost startling since everything that surrounds it causes nothing but a succession of eye-rolls. Glossy, ham-fisted mass-market junk for the easily gullible, "The Blind Side" is so emotionally disconnected from the real world that it takes a true story and turns it into what feels like total fiction.