Sandra Bullock takes on the role of a privileged Southern matriarch who takes in a failing football prospect and finds her life is transformed by sport and charity. Based on the real life story of Baltimore Raven Michael Oher, “The Blind Side” is pure Hollywood hokum — but there’s plenty of beauty in the details.
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron
I guess you’re not really a big star in Hollywood until you’ve played a character with big hair. So give yourself a slap on the back Sandra Bullock: You’ve gone toe-to-pedicured-toe with the drawling ghosts of outspoken Southern belles and held your own as Leigh Anne Tuohy — a Memphis housewife and home designer who took a kid from the streets and turned him into an NFL hopeful.
So stand back Julia Roberts and hang on to your hoop skirt Vivien Leigh. Bullock is strolling down a very storied lane in this new movie from John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), and with a little help from some well-placed bling and designer jeans, she recreates the unique blend of Southern femme fatale and matriarch that’s defined some of the best screen heroines of all time.
Based on Michael Lewis’ book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, this ambitiously upbeat fairy tale formula tells the story of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a kid who grew up in the bad part of town as a ward of the state.
When we first meet him, he’s on the verge of being accepted to a fancy private Catholic school for one reason, and one reason only: He’s huge, and the football coach wants a big guy to be the wall around his quarterback; he needs to be protected on the “blind side.”
Oher is the ideal candidate because he’s not just big, he’s quick, and the position of left tackle demands both.
The only problem is Oher doesn’t possess the academic skills for acceptance. Passed on without ever proving himself to any scholastic standard, the kid is perceived as a moron by most of the faculty.
Sooner than later, however, Michael finds a champion in Leigh Anne (Bullock), a society gal who decides to take him into her home.
It’s a big moment that proves life-changing for everyone involved, but there’s a sweet understatement to the scene as Hancock leaves it to Bullock to carry with a single comic glance.
One minute the character of Leigh Anne Tuohy is just another faux blond eating overpriced salads with her Botox-plumped peers. The next, she’s an accidental activist taking on a hundred years of racial history to discover true Christian charity.
In real life, watershed moments don’t come with musical scores. Half the time, we aren’t even aware a transformative instant is upon us. Life just happens in those split-second gut decisions, and from there, we face the consequences — be they fabulous or frightful.
For Leigh Anne, the impulse to take Michael in is expressed as a moment of “Mama-knows-best” behaviour. As the undisputed queen of her beehive, Leigh Anne is apparently quite adept at manipulating everyone in her family to go along with her inspired plans.
She’s got an opinion about just about everything, and because she’s so darned cute — with her expensively streaked hair and Pilates-trained tummy — she can swish in all the right spots to get her way.
Apparently, we just can’t get enough of this bossy Southern belle character. Maybe it’s because Southern women find the right balance between bosomy availability and kick-in-the-pants toughness.
Whatever the reason, a sassy broad with a mind of her own, and a great sense of humour, goes a long way in the world of genre filmmaking because they create tension with their unpredictable presence and power of self-possession.
Bullock finds all the larger than life dimensions to her character, but it’s in the smaller cracks that she makes the most of her performance and shows us the true face of transformation as it happens from the inside out.
At one point, she realizes Michael never had a bed of his own, and you can see her entire world-view disintegrate in her hands.
Bullock brings the same edge of gravitas to the scene as she did in Crash, showing us a woman emerging from the cocoon of privilege.
The film revels in the halfway point of her character’s change before finally unveiling the full metamorphosis, and that was a good strategy because the actual dilemmas in this movie are rather small — and pragmatically benign.
The real drama comes dressed in the details of everyday life and the infinite number of choices we make daily. With outstanding help from the supporting cast — most notably a clean-shaven Tim McGraw as Mr. Tuohy and Quentin Aaron as Oher — Bullock and director Hancock stretch the skin of cliche over an old drum and give it a memorable thump.