I was asked to review The Blind Side by accident. I received the disc, unbidden, as the result of one of the perks we receive for writing for a site such as PopMatters: Once you get on a certain list, publicists send you unsolicited movies in the hopes that they will land a review. I’m sure such a list exists that nets you such fare as The Complete Criterion Collection, Hitchcock’s Early Masterpieces, and Great Films of the French New Wave. Alas, I am not on that list. The list I am on scores courtesy copies of Ninja Assassin, Imax Under the Sea (narrated by Jim Carrey), and Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove.
I’m vain enough that I keep these freebies off of my shelf at home. I don’t want them to contaminate my otherwise smart collection (Ace Venture: Pet Detective anyone?). Instead, they collect in a drawer at work. To throw them away just seems wasteful, but I don’t really know to whom to give them. What started as a cool treat during the middle of the day (“What? A DVD for me?”) has turned into a bit of a nuisance (“What? Another DVD for me?”). Sadly, I’ve grown accustomed to opening these packages and rolling my eyes. When, however, two days after the Academy Awards, I opened a package that included The Blind Side I did not roll my eyes. When I opened the package that included The Blind Side I thought, “Huh.”
Based on the reviews, the previews, the word of mouth, and frankly, the money it pulled in at the box office, I never would have watched The Blind Side had it not landed in my lap. This qualifies me as some kind of a cinematic snob, I realize, but so be it. There are simply too many unwatched movies and too few nights anymore to watch them all. I’ll be damned if I’m going to waste a Friday night on a big budget after-school special when I still haven’t seen Sorority Row.
That said, much to the chagrin of my even snobbier friends, I was of the camp that cheered the Academy’s decision to expand the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten. More and more, I find the end-of-year prestige films too cloying, and I believe that room ought to be cleared for well made, crowd-pleasing offerings like Up and District 9. Even when I hadn’t seen it and never expected to, I was pleased that The Blind Side received a Best Picture nomination. I thought it deserved a seat at the table. Now that I have seen it, I still don’t begrudge it the nod. I don’t think it deserved to win, but I don’t mind that it was allowed to compete.
The movie is based on a book of the same name by Michael Lewis, who has quietly emerged as a major force in pop culture. (He also wrote Moneyball, a film of which is allegedly in the works by Steven Soderbergh, and most recently he penned The Big Short, which is about the financial crisis and which, seriously, may soon be starring Brad Pitt.) I’ve not read The Blind Side, but from what I understand from people who have, Lewis is not shy about digging into some of the finer points of football: the history, the strategy, the relationships between positions.
The movie begins with the promise of similar insights as Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) provides the voice over for Lawrence Taylor snapping Joe Theismann’s leg yet again. The initial point of the scene is to illustrate the importance of the position of the left tackle, which protects a right-handed quarterback’s blind side from the defense, but the focus immediately shifts from football to the unpredictable ways that relationships take hold in our lives. Theismann’s horrific injury leads to the richness that Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) brings to Tuohy’s life. In fact after the prologue, football disappears from the movie for the next 50-minutes, which is no insignificant chunk of time for a two-hour movie that marketed itself on being a story about high school football.
I count myself among the millions of Americans who are bona fide football fans, yet I still found this dearth of actual football scenes welcoming, as the on-the-field bits are among the worst in the movie. The lessons that the sport affords rarely extend beyond what you’ve seen in the previews (“These guys are your family, Michael, and you protect them like you protect your family”, or something like that), the coach is a caricature of the bumbling coach who doesn’t know half as much as the parents in the stands (which is too bad because he is played by Ray McKinnon, who was so good as the Rev.
H.W. Smith in Deadwood), and the role that Leigh Anne’s son, S.J. (Jae Hood), assumes as Michael’s trainer (I guess) is as annoying as it is condescending. The scene in which Michael gets the best of a redneck defender is fun in that Hollywood kind of way, but when the refs later flag him for “excessive blocking”, the movie asks us to accept ludicrousness where elsewhere it wants us to take it seriously. I’ve heard that the real-life Michael Oher’s one qualm with the movie was that it doesn’t give him credit for his football IQ. Watching an eight-year-old school him on how to play the game only legitimizes this claim.
Thankfully, the off-the-field scenes ring more true. I’m a cynical enough bastard that I spent much of the first part of the movie waiting for Michael to show his true colors. I don’t care if he does eat at the table and fold his borrowed sheets, I smell a scam. When he stuffed rolls into his pocket at Thanksgiving dinner I thought, “Ah, ha!” but, no. He has just been conditioned to take advantage of plenty when it presents itself.
There’s a version of this movie in which the gentle giant accidentally pushes the girl off the swing though the community thinks otherwise, or the relationship between Big Mike and the Tuohy’s high-school aged daughter (Lily Collins, Phil’s daughter) inspires whispers for reasons other than just studying together, but let me save you some time: Don’t wait for that movie here. This is not a Todd Solondz film.It was written and directed by John Lee Hancock, who also made The Rookie. You know The Rookie. It’s the one about the high school coach who loses a bet with his team so he has to try out for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and he does and he makes the team.
With this kind of pedigree, what do you expect from The Blind Side? Complications are never really complications. When they do emerge, they resolve themselves immediately. Michael doesn’t have the grades to get into school? Hire a tutor (Kathy Bates). His college eligibility is challenged? Just walk out on the inquisitor and come back later when you have a better answer. Even the car wreck that threatens both Michael’s life and the life of the Tuohy boy is all better with a phone call about the insurance and a line about that damn kid lapping up all the attention.
I appreciate that these remarks sound harsh, but I don’t intend them as criticisms, I swear. There’s a whole bunch that this movie is not, but to take it to task for not being the movie that I would rather it be is unfair. For what it is, The Blind Side is quite good, and what it is is a funny, moving, unpretentious, and well executed movie that has something to say about stepping out of your comfort zone and making a difference.
There’s a nice scene in which the Tuohys take Michael out for a celebratory dinner. As they are leaving, the family sees Michael hugging the man who is clearing the table. We later learn that the man is Michael’s brother and that Michael has not seen his brother for a long time because he doesn’t know where the brother stays. The Tuohys can’t help everyone, but what a world it would be if we all tried.
Of course, your final impression of the movie will be in no small part determined by what you think of its star. I, for one, am a little confused by the animosity that people seem to feel toward Sandra Bullock. True, she doesn’t exactly make the kinds of movies that appeal to me, but I hardly think of her as an offensive presence in any way. She benefits here from a terrific script by Hancock.
At one point, when she second-guesses her own motives, Leigh Anne asks her husband (Tim McGraw), “Am I a good person? Not a joke. Not rhetorical”. That’s a good line, and Bullock seems to embody the type of woman who establishes conditions when she asks a question.
Better yet, watch her walk into a room and look around for a departed Michael. The way she puts her hands on her hips, that feels a lot like the way I imagine Leigh Anne would stand. Did Bullock deserve the Oscar? I don’t know, but I do know this: She can only vote for herself once. It’s not her fault that she won. So she won an Oscar for Best Actress? Whatever. She also won a Razzie for Worst Actress, and that she showed up at that award ceremony with DVD’s of her “winning” movie, All About Steve, that says more to me about who she is than her acceptance speech at the Academy Awards.
This is the second Warner Brothers disc I’ve received that’s one of these combo packs that includes a standard DVD, a Blu-ray, and a digital version of the disc, which is cool enough only I can’t watch the bonus features. I see here on the back of the box that the disc includes an interview with the actual Michael Oher, a featurette on the actor who plays Michael, a conversation between Bullock and the real-life Leigh Anne Tuohy, and a bit that includes six “legendary SEC college football coaches”. I’m sure that none of these features are thinly veiled promotional materials and that they all will only improve the satisfaction of your viewing experience.
The real thing the three-in-one does is let them jack the price up, which is neither here nor there because there’s no way you’re buying this disc, anyway. However, if a copy should somehow appear on your doorstep one afternoon, give it a spin before relegating it to wherever it is that you put all of those movies you secretly like, though you’d rather that nobody else know.