By Willie Krischke — March 23, 2010
I’ll be honest. I went into “The Blind Side” expecting to totally hate it. The trailers looked emotionally manipulative. It’s a movie about my least favorite sport starring my least favorite actress. It’s about a rich white family saving a poor black kid. Everything about it told me it would be awful and I would hate it. An editor of one of the newspapers I write for asked me to review it, and I negotiated my way out of it. I expected it to pass quietly in the night, like so many other movies about football and/or starring Sandra Bullock I never hope to see, and hope to never see. But then it got nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and here we are.
And truth be told, it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. Or at least it wasn’t as bad in the ways I expected it to be bad. This is not to say that I liked it, and this review is still mostly going to be about its sins. But to its credit, it could’ve been a lot worse. This might be the nicest thing I can say about it. It’s not as syrupy, treacly and self-important as I thought it would be. It doesn’t hammer the emotional cues like I expected it to (or at least not as often.) Given its subject matter, it’s surprisingly light on its feet, even pleasant, occasionally funny, and (shudder) heartwarming.
“The Blind Side” is based on a true story about Baltimore Ravens left tackle Michael Oher, and is ostensibly taken from a book written about him by Michael Lewis, though I expect the book is more about football than the movie is. The movie is really about a nice white family and a poor black kid, and the nice things the nice white family does for him, and how he shows his gratitude by playing football for their alma mater, Ole Miss, which makes the NCAA suspicious. Because it’s against the rules to adopt homeless black kids so that they’ll play sports for your alma mater. Or something like that. (Seriously, has anyone ever really done that? Because that would make a much more interesting movie.)
Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw are the paternal units of the nice white family. Did I mention that they are rich? He owns, like 72 Taco Bells. She has angry conversations on her cell phone about curtains and furniture. I was really surprised how often the director chooses to remind us that this family is w-e-a-l-t-h-y. Not just “comfortable,” not just “well-off,” but honestly, truly wealthy. The production designer has gone out of his/her way to make sure that every time Bullock is on screen, there’s a brand on screen, as well. It’s like watching a white Southern Baptist version of “Cribs.” There are brands, icons, and symbols in an overwhelming number of shots.
Enter Quinton Aaron as Big Mike. Aaron’s wikipedia page has this to say: “Quinton Aaron (born August 15, 1984) is an American actor. His first lead role was as Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Michael Oher in the 2009 film, The Blind Side. His height of 6′ 8″ (2.03 m) made him ideal for the role.” Yep. He’s a big guy. Apparently he’s the only big black guy working in Hollywood, because here’s the thing about Quinton Aaron: he can’t act his way out of a paper bag. Witness the scene where the nice rich white family buys him a brand spanking new, totally decked out SUV. Now, remember, Mike has bounced around from foster home to foster home. He doesn’t know his dad and his mom’s a crackhead. We’re told earlier in the film that he’s never had so much as a bed of his own. When the blindfold is taken off and he sees the SUV, do we see an overwhelmed kid who has just been given the most extravagant gift of his whole life? No… we see an actor whose director just told him to “look surprised!” just before the camera started rolling. Judging by the look on his face, he could’ve been given an amazing gift…or a wedgie. Sandra Bullock just won an Oscar for this movie; I can only assume it’s because, opposite Aaron, she looks like Meryl Streep. And that’s the only time I’ll ever compare Bullock to Meryl Streep. That’s a promise.
I wonder what it’s like to be the real Michael Oher watching this movie. Does he sit there and wonder, “Am I really this blank and boring?” Honestly, where is his personality? We learn everything about Michael Oher because somebody else tells us. Somebody white. Oh wait, I did learn two things – 1) he likes rugby shirts and 2) he occasionally listens to hip hop, though that results in a near-tragic car accident. He takes tests on which he scores off the charts in “protective instincts;” I don’t remember that being a category on any of the tests I took in high school (maybe I just didn’t score very well.) And he can be taught to play football, though it takes Sandra Bullock storming the field to get him to play well.
But Bullock and family (including an honest-to-goodness cute kid in Jae Head, who may be the best part of the movie) take Big Mike in, learn that he doesn’t like to be called Big Mike, and make him a part of the family. At one point, Bullock tells her snooty friends at their snooty lunch “we’re not changing his life; he’s changing ours!” but there’s not much evidence of that in “The Blind Side.” Probably just as well, the Magical Negro theme almost as played out as the White Saviour theme. Instead, this movie tromps along pretty much without a hitch; there’s not much doubt from the beginning that Big Mike is bound to succeed, thanks to Bullock. And when I think about how much worse it could’ve been, I’m thankful it passes by as smoothly and pleasantly as it does.