So you thought that Avatar was a baffling choice for Best Picture Oscar glory. Well, it’s a subtle master-stroke in comparison to The Blind Side. Based on the true story of American football player Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), The Blind Side stars Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, an affluent Memphis mom who takes in a poor black child, providing him with the means and support to fulfil his promise as a college sportsman.
Michael is a gargantuan figure, a giant whose stature is only dwarfed by his own big, cuddly heart. In and out of foster homes and social care since a young age, he starts the film sleeping on a friend’s sofa, and, through a timely display of his athletic abilities in front of high school teacher Coach Cotton (Ray McKinnon), gets admitted to the Christian private school attended by the Tuohy family. Once taken in, interior designer Leigh Anne takes a special interest in furthering his career both in the classroom and on the field.
Sure, you get it. It’s a heart-warming tale of kindly white folks helping out those socially neglected minorities. It soon becomes less important that this is based on truth (and it is, as a slideshow of news footage and photographs mixes the actors with their real-life counterparts at the end of the film), as The Blind Side makes for utterly mawkish, patronising viewing.
Big Mike remains a cipher, initially a conundrum for Leigh Anne and his school teachers to figure out, with plenty of strained ‘eureka!’ moments as they discover his preference for verbal exams, and realise that his natural ‘defensive instincts’ make him an exemplary Left Tackle.
Eventually, he blossoms into a vessel for the white community’s hope and privileged, Christian sense of charity. This is not the making of a compelling role, but newcomer Aaron does well, focusing on the character’s tenderness and caution with a slight grace lacking in the script, which drags the viewer through a swamp of transformative montages, emotional flashpoints and thoroughly boring football footage.
The Blind Side seems to be less about black success than white triumph – a loving project for Leigh Anne – as the shallow drawing of Michael is supported by uniformly negative black characters, mostly drug dealers, crooks or crack addicts (such as his irresponsible mother). Even the film’s sole antagonist, a National Collegiate Athletic Association representative, is a woman of colour, and her narrative purpose is to disrupt the family’s equilibrium.
That this conflict occurs towards the end of the film, it is swept aside easily, as the camera looks at the actions of Leigh Anne and her family with an uncritical, naive eye. Their love is unquestioned. Sandra Bullock’s central performance as the over-bearing, manipulative mother – full of care and determination, yet not without a certain element of straight-spined curtness – is unsurprisingly attracting awards buzz. However, it is a one-note caricature of a role, as her gags come from repeated moments of ballsy passive-aggression. The character, while at times charming and humorous, lacks any motivation or depth.
Throughout, it becomes clear that The Blind Side could have been a much more insightful, impressive film if it had taken its saintly protagonist to task, or simply interrogated her reasoning. Instead, this is mildly diverting, cheesy nonsense, propped up by its lead actor.