The Blind Side- How to Be An Inspiring True Story Without Becoming Offensive

The Blind Side is not a great movie, but it is a smart and tasteful one. Unlike other inspiring true life stories where benevolent white people have their lives changed forever when they reach out to help an underprivileged black child with a haunted past, it dodges most of the easy manipulation pitfalls and manages to earn its engaging demeanor. Plus, it doesn’t limit itself to trying to please only one demographic. It’s about a woman, but there’s plenty of sports for the men (and Sandra Bullock has never looked better). Its heroes are conservative, charitable Christians, yet the movie doesn’t ignore the hypocrisies inherent in their lifestyle, thus placating liberal viewers. Finally, the story itself doesn’t just stop at a high school championship or a “big game”– it’s not merely a symbolic victory, it’s a rags-to-riches tale that ends with the NFL Draft, when the hero becomes a millionaire and up-and-coming star in the league.

Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) never had a bed of his own. He was taken from his mother by child services early in life, and then never settled with another family. He was big and athletic, but his GPA was non-existent and his background was troubled to say the least. A football coach at a private Christian school pushed for his acceptance on the principle of Christian charity (though the struggling football team might have contributed). At the same school, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) notices Michael waiting until the end of volleyball games so he can pick up half-eaten bags of popcorn for his dinner. She takes him in and begins helping him by buying him new clothing, getting him a bed, and encouraging him to try out for football. When his talent becomes evident, she hires him a tutor (Kathy Bates) to help him qualify for NCAA admission.

The thing I admired most about the film is that it didn’t turn the characters one-dimensional for the sake of establishing “good guys,” “bad guys,” and the like. At a certain point in the film, an NCAA official investigates the Tuohy family, seeing if they pressured their new adopted son into going to their college alma mater for personal benefit, and quite frankly, she has a point. Leigh Anne’s friends are all skeptical of a big black man staying at the Tuohy house, because her teenage daughter might be vulnerable to the stereotypical sexually aggressive black man, and Tuohy herself the first night she takes in Oher wonders aloud if he’s going to steal things. The “Christian charity” the school exercises is an obvious front for their own athletic department’s benefit, and the movie acknowledges this. Even Oher’s mom, in a very sad scene, meant well and was simply dealt a bad hand, unable to control her addictions. It neither condemns or condones the conservative Christian lifestyle of Tennessee, instead merely showing the benefits and the close-minded thoughts that those folks have simultaneously, letting us make our own choices about the proceedings.

Bullock does strong work in what might be her best “serious” work to date. She’s a strong mule-headed woman, who is always seen looking gorgeous in heels and tight dresses (and Bullock wears them well). Aaron gains sympathy without playing Oher as too dumb or too desperate. A few of the supporting roles do become one-note, such as Tim McGraw as the supportive husband who does what his wife tells him to do, and Jae Head as the youngest Tuohy son. He is portrayed as the archetypal cute little white kid with freckles and bad teeth, who always has something clever to say. The element of the film which rang most false is everything between the young boy and Oher, especially when the son helps coach Oher during football training. It’s a cheap ploy for laughs, and to gain cheap sympathy points for the big scary black man by painting him as a gentle giant who befriends cute quippy kids.

Still, I’m reminded of Radio, the Ed Harris/Cuba Gooding Jr. film also based on a true story about a struggling homeless black man with no education who is taken in by a football team in a racist Southern town. I felt it was one of the worst films of the year, with its depiction of the two types of white people– “true Christians” vs. “one-note malicious bigots.” Without complexity, the film can no longer claim to be based on a true story. Also, Radio’s lack of intelligence was played for laughs. Tell me, does watching a mentally handicapped man dance like a happy fool tickle your funnybone? In The Blind Side, there is a moment or two where the film comes dangerously close to toeing that line, but for the most part, Aaron plays him as having a quiet intelligence and dignity. Finally, when the heroic moment of a football drama is merely the state championship, then the level of inspiration can only soar so high… but here is Michael Oher, who went from homeless, wandering, a GPA of below 1, and nothing to his name other than one or two ratty polos. He not only led his team to the state championship, but he brought his grades up, got offers from several universities, did well in college, graduated, and was a first round draft pick in the NFL Draft. That’s far more touching to me than one shining moment– this is taking a human life where nothing went right, setting it on the right track, and now nothing goes wrong. The execution is a tad pedestrian, and it suffers from some of the same cliches that other inspirational dramas based on true stories suffer from. Yet it’s hard to turn a blind eye to this one being much better than others.

~ by russellhainline on December 14, 2009.

One Response to “The Blind Side- How to Be An Inspiring True Story Without Becoming Offensive”

  1. […] Actress: 10. Saoirse Ronan- The Lovely Bones 9. Sandra Bullock- The Blind Side 8. Maya Rudolph- Away We Go 7. Rachel McAdams- The Time Traveler’s Wife 6. Amy Adams- Sunshine […]

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