Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Blind Side

"98% Protective Instincts

The true story of All-American Michael Oher is the very stuff of feel-good uplifting movies. Impoverished son of a crack-addict mother and disappearing father gets a break by being so damned good at sports that a religious prep school is willing to look past his abysmal GPA (0.6 in the movie, 0.4 in real life). While attending, the homeless kid is given a place to flop for the night by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohey, and, basically, stays on, becomes family, and with their tutorship and support, gets his grades up enough to join sports, and the opportunities fall from the sky like linebackers.

The ads and the poster make it look icky, like Oher is the stray dog who just needs love from the do-gooder white folk, or worse, one of those "reverse Oreo" movies where the compelling stories of minority struggles are overshadowed by the white stars playing earnest observers.*

Fortunately, the movie is written and directed by
John Lee Hancock, who made one of the best sports movies a few years back—"The Rookie"—and managed to salvage a bit of the abandoned "Alamo" project. As screenwriter of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," and "A Perfect World" (both for Clint Eastwood), he's shown himself to be a writer who embraced quirk, then moved on to write compelling characters rather than walking exploited stereotypes. You like his unsentimental people and root for them no matter their hurdles.

It comes in handy in "The Blind Side." Once Oher (
Quinton Aaron) sleeps over one night, that's it, he's a part of the Tuohey family, no if's, and's and but's, and the matriarch, Leigh Anne (played by Sandra Bullock like a Kathy Lee Gifford with sass and a laser-eyes—she's what y'all call a "spit-fire"), walks the talk of her Christian upbringing in providing a practical resource for his needs. No argument is broached, no catty remark is left unchallenged, and schmaltz avoided at all costs. Bullock's Leigh Anne Tuohey is a Mama Tiger, the like not seen since Susan Sarandon's "Michaela Odone" in "Lorenzo's Oil," to the point where all Hancock has to do is keep her in frame when she walks up to her kid's coach from the background and one begins to feel genuine fear. A revelation of the extent of Oher's poverty elicits a polite "Excuse me," a walk down the hall to her room, shutting the door and an erect sitting posture to indicate that no amount of bad news is going to get to her or deter her. Bullock isn't afraid to make her character cold or a bitch. She just is, take it or leave it.

But it's Oher's story, his character has more screen-time than Bullock, though far less dialogue, and
Hancock found a god-send in Aron, who has a face the camera loves. Since he has to carry a hefty amount of the drama silent, it serves him well, and is a nice fit with Bullock's all-talk, but reserved expression, counter-point.

At passing glance, it looks awful, but in its straight-forward, unpretentious and un-preachy style, "The Blind Side" wins over any cynicism.

"The Blind Side" is a Matinee.

* I'm sure you can name one—"Mississippi Burning," "Glory," "Amistad," "Come See the Paradise," "Snow Falling on Cedars" ... the list goes on, ad nauseum.

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