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November 22, 2009

Movie Review – The Blind Side (2009)


The Blind Side (2009)

The Blind Side is an of-the-moment biopic of a rookie NFL player named Michael Oher. The film focuses on Oher’s transformative high school years in Memphis. Quinton Aaron stars as the teenaged football phenom and Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw play his adoptive parents, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy.

Oher, who had been made a ward of the state as a child due to his mother’s drug addiction-fueled neglect, was an indigent refugee from foster care when he enrolled in a prestigious Christian private school. He was accepted by the school partly as a charity case and partly for his athletic promise, although academic ineligibility initially kept him off the playing field. The Tuohy’s children, teenager Collins (Lynn Collins) and grade-schooler S.J. (Jae Head), attended the same school. The wealthy couple discovered by chance that Oher was homeless and, at Leigh Anne’s instigation, took him into their home.

A bed for the night turned into an indefinite stay; the family helped him bring up his grades and then– football fanatics all- coached him in the sport when he joined the team as a junior. Oher was aggressively recruited to play college ball and, with the help of a personal tutor hired by Leigh Anne and Sean, succeeded in graduating with a GPA good enough to get him into a top state school on an athletic scholarship. Ultimately Oher’s relationship with the Tuohys was formalized when Leigh Anne and Sean became his legal guardians.

This is a touching and inspiring story. Only a person with a heart of stone could fail to be moved by Oher’s struggles to overcome the great hardships in his life and the Tuohys’ selfless kindness to him. The film pays particular attention to the emotionally-charged progression of Leigh Anne and Oher’s mother-son relationship; the brotherly bond that forms almost instantaneously between Oher and S.J. is a close second. While the attention paid to the development of the father-son and brother-sister relationships is comparatively perfunctory, the depiction of the deepening intimacy between Oher and the Tuohys as a family is very moving.

The film’s emotional power resides in the story (and the audience’s knowledge that it is a true story) and the performances. The writing by writer-director John Lee Hancock is lazy. The weaknesses in the script are especially apparent when the focus moves away from the domestic sphere. There are inspirational teacher cliches and clunky sports metaphors. Confrontations with racist junior leaguers in Leigh Anne’s social circle and thuggish drug dealers from Oher’s old neighborhood are stilted, too-convenient-to-have-really-happened-that-way distillations of the social forces opposing the newly formed family. The main story is book-ended by a few scenes of a ludicrous investigation by the NCAA into accusations the Touhys took Oher in as a pretext for feeding a hot sports prospect to their alma mater.

Whether any or all of this is actually true is beside the point; it may be completely true, completely false, dramatic liberties taken with real happenings, or some combination of the above. The problem is that it plays deeply artificial, a series of cheap Movie Moments trotted out in place of the hard work of building a careful, sensitive portrayal of people and place. The Blind Side has neither the low-key honesty of The Express, last year’s close-kin biopic of trailblazing college football star Ernie Davis, nor the unforced naturalism of Hancock’s prior sports movie biopic The Rookie.

2 stars