Friday, December 31, 2010
One Minute Review (Maybe More like FIve Minutes) - The Blind Side
The film is, of course, well made and well acted (although certainly not to any degree of justified awards recognition) and yet it's always either too lazy or far too simple-minded to get to the real heart of the story. This isn't so much the story of a black man who is given an amazing chance; it's the story of the white family who gives it to him. It's sad that, at what was then the beginning of 2010, Hollywood still can't tell a deeply felt, intelligent black story without the assistance of a white character to push things along.
Let's put it in context: would this film have been so easily made and widely distributed if it's hero Michael Oher was taken in by a black family? Would anyone care about the story if he was a white man in the same circumstances? The film never quite establishes (maybe it never quite figures out) whether we should cheer on Michael's success as a football player or pat the Touhy family on the back for doing such a good job by letting this man into their life. There's a scene in which Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock) shows Michael to his new bedroom and he says he's never had one before. His own bedroom, she asks? "A bed" is his response. Then the film sneaks in one extra shot as Leigh Anne goes into her room and sits down for a brief second to contemplate this. The scene becomes less about the inherent sadness of this statement and more about how wonderful this woman is for giving this man a place to stay.
But what would happen, realistically, if Michael, not an idiot, but none too good at school when he is taken in, had sparked romance with the Touhy's teenage daughter Collins? Would they have allowed a romance to blossom? Would they have given their daughter away willing for marriage to this large black man? One suspects that the simplified, Leave it to Beaver, rich white existence that the family leads isn't as simple as this film plays it out as (is it ever?). George Orwell, as the legend goes, may have ridden the train car with the lowly proletariat, but drink of their water bottle he would not.
But now I've gotten out of context and diverted away from the fact that, outside of any social reservations, The Blind Side just isn't any good as serious drama. Like it's hero it's too wide-eyed and cutesy, like a love sick puppy, to ever offer up the serious payoffs that such material sound naturally gravitate towards. When Michael plays his first football game the team starts off by getting pounded by their rivals. When Michael finally comes to he drives his mouthy white opponent all the way to the end of the field and pushes him over the barricade. Where was he going asks the coach. "To the Bus," Michael replies. "That guy had to go." They both share a big smile. Aho ho, what a card. God bless white southern affluence.
And then there's the son, SJ, played by Jae Head, a kid too precious for his own good, who is blond, has a face full of freckles, crooked kid teeth and can call upon funny faces whenever the script requires it. After a serious car accident involving Michael and the kid, Leigh Anne rushes to the scene, finds Michael on the curb, head clutched in regret. She spots the stretcher and sees blood stains on the kid's clothes until the camera shows SJ looking up and joking about whether the blood stains will come out of his clothes. Good thing too, director John Lee Hancock almost let a serious emotion creep into the film.
And then it ends with a voice-over from Sandra Bullock who tells of a newspaper report of a black kid who was killed on his 21st birthday due to gang violence. All the papers focused on how good an athlete he was and how much potential he would have had if he had just gotten out. "That could have been anyone," says Bullock. "Even my son Michael." Yes it could have. Unfortunately not every black kid in the South has a rich white family to take them in and pay for all their dreams to come true. And I'd bet my last dollar that we'll never get a movie about that other kid.