The Blind Side (2009)

The commercial success of The Blind Side last year was unexpected; its nomination for Best Picture may have been even more so. Starring Sandra Bullock in an Oscar-winning role, and based on a true story of rags-to-riches football player Michael Oher, many people have professed their love for this sentimental film. Not being a fan of over-wrought emotionality, I was expecting not to enjoy it at all. Surprisingly, when I finished it, I felt good and admittedly liked it more than I would have predicted. But it was not an excellent movie, and by no means did it ever deserve its nomination for Best Picture.

The Blind Side tells the story of the wealthy Tuohy family taking in a homeless and underprivileged black student. He was effectively bartered into the school by the coach, who hoped to use him for athletics. However, academics prove far too difficult for Oher – until Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) takes him in and improves his life.

The film opens with an interesting narration by Bullock explaining some aspects of football and the position that Oher plays. Apparently, it’s full of inaccuracies, especially regarding relative wages of positions. This is only the first time that writer/director John Lee Hancock polishes the facts to fit his story, and unfortunately, it would not be the last.

For instance, though Oher, played by Quinton Aaron, shows great proficiency with a basketball in one of the first scenes, later he approaches football like he’s never seen it in his life. This is a story angle that I know was fabricated, and was one of the more difficult-to-swallow aspects of the film. Tie in the fact that the coach is less apt to teach the game than Bullock can with a snappy analogy, and you can see the kind of set-up that the story rolls with – one in which all stops are pulled to gain a few more “awww”s from the audience, even if it means changing the story the film is based on and forcing things to not make any sense.

There are many other signs of a story more intent on sentiment than being fully fleshed out (the boy Oher gets into the school with is dropped until needed at the end for a kind of “could-have-been” comparison, for instance), but I’ll avoid listing them all and try to move on. I’d like to address the varying claims of racism being lobbied at the film.

The fact that it’s based on a true story causes problems for any assertion that the film’s message is ‘black people need white people’s help to make their lives better’ (or any variance on that claim). After all, this actually happened, so how can a story based on truth have a racist intent? However, upon more critical examination, you realize that the film could have done a lot more to avoid these allegations.

After all, the story very clearly focuses on Bullock, not on Aaron’s Oher, who finds himself lost in a new world where he’s the only one of his kind. He isn’t given much dialogue, and as I mentioned, has been dumbed down to an almost lobotomized passivity. What are his thoughts and worries? When is his effort lauded and applauded? Instead, all the attention goes to Bullock and the relatively minor problems she faces from taking in another mouth to feed. I don’t know how the real Oher feels about this film, with his story getting relegated to the sidelines. I’d be quite displeased.

In her defense, Bullock does do an Oscar-worthy performance. She makes the role of Leigh Anne her own, bringing great confidence and sharpness to the character. There is a lack of evolution to Miz Tuohy, but that doesn’t make Bullock’s performance any less enjoyable.

I wasn’t a fan of Aaron, who fell back on the “look up and slowly smile” move too often, but again, his character was given little to nothing to work with. One irritating standout was child actor Jae Head as Bullock’s son SJ. I never knew scenery could be chewed so loudly. The other child of the Tuohy family, Collins (played coincidentally enough by Lily Collins), is also hard to evaluate – her character another casualty of a script more interested in a back-and-forth karaoke between SJ and Oher that goes on for FAR too long than in any meaningful relationship that may have developed between Oher and the Tuohy’s daughter.

The script for the film is a gripe I simply can’t forgive. It’s so weak and worn that any sentimentality gained in the moment will quickly vanish with a critical reflection. Most of the problems that Oher and his surrogate family face are solved as quickly as they arise (particularly a car crash that seems to have absolutely no repercussions). It’s really just a vehicle for Sandra Bullock to do some respectable acting.

I know many people liked the film and that I’ll be stepping on a great deal of toes, but a film that uses gimmicks such as Oher’s behavior during a football game (and subsequent cheesy line) and entirely superfluous flashbacks (in desperate attempts to ring out more sentimentality) simply isn’t a good film. For a feel-good family film, it may stand with its head above the crowd, simply due to its amazing lead performance and bits of humor that keep it light even at a 2 hour runtime. But compared to a canon of respectable cinema, or even against the other nine entries for Best Picture of 2009, it simply doesn’t compare. Though the end credits wisely choose to display real pictures of the Tuohys and Oher, garnering some last-minute tears that it may have missed during the film, my final analysis is that this is a movie overwhelmingly overrated by many of its viewers.

Final rating: 6.5/10

–James A. Janisse





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