REVIEW: The Blind Side

6 12 2009

The Blind Side” might as well be a Lifetime or Hallmark movie.  It trades the sports movie cliches (coach’s speech, dramatic championship game) for the inspirational movie cliches (the moment that changes a life, small choice that signifies acceptance).  It is able to excel beyond a made-for-TV movie because it has its heart in the right place, yet it still feels like one because the focus doesn’t hit similarly.  The story should be about Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) and how he rose from poverty to play in the NFL.  However, the filmmakers felt it necessary to shift the paramount concern of the movie to Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock), the wealthy woman who made it all possible.  It takes the achievement out of the inspiration, and a movie that aims to be heartwarming winds up radiating nothing but lukewarm feelings.

Call it post-“Precious” syndrome, but the scenes that attempted to show Michael’s roots in poverty had remarkably little effect.  I think the failure comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about films about triumph: in order for us to truly feel something when the hero comes out on top, we have to comprehend how terrible his situation really was.  The film puts itself at an immediate disadvantage by giving us only fleeting glimpses of the neighborhood where Michael grew up, and even in those few scenes, it glosses over how truly dreadful it is to live there.  The poverty is almost candy-coated; no real grit is assigned to it.  Worst of all was the handling of Michael’s mother, a freewheeling drug addict who is deprived of her children by the government.  Her brief appearance is so dazed that it hits with no impact, especially for those who have seen Mo’Nique’s character dish out abuse her daughter Precious.

Sandra Bullock’s spirited and spunky performance (which was good enough to overcome her dreadful accent) atones for some of the errors the film makes with her story.  The reason that Michael is able to succeed is because of a random act of kindness Leigh Anne makes after observing him walking the lonely streets with a plastic bag of laundry.  But for some reason, the filmmakers don’t buy that as a viable reason for her to make all the sacrifices that she does, so they turn into an episode of white guilt.  That emotion doesn’t really work well with inspiration, and the film nearly turns Michael’s biggest struggle that overcoming his race, not his past.  The story should have been how one woman selflessly sacrificed her own resources to empower an underprivileged boy who then used that encouragement to succeed in ways he could not imagine.  But by shining the spotlight on Leigh Anne, it is seemingly demeaning to the accomplishments of Michael.  No doubt she was responsible for the opportunities, but it was him who seized them.

“The Blind Side” wants to hit on a gut level, but comes rushing at you like a middle school football player instead of an NFL linebacker.  Aside from Bullock and her plucky younger son S.J. (Jae Head), the performances really aren’t there, especially not from Quinton Aaron, who makes Michael reticent to a point where it becomes frustratingly difficult to sympathize with him.  The movie falls a rung below inspirational, but still manages to provide a nice boost of happiness and an overall pleasant, if not wholly satisfying, experience.  B /