The Blind Side (2009)
One of the meanings of the title The Blind Side is that in football, the left tackle defends the quarterback's blind side -- from the defensive linemen he doesn't see.
But in the movie The Blind Side, truth is sacked and authenticity is fumbled -- all in the name of cheerleading.
When my son was point guard on his high school basketball team, a multitude of parents would come to see their yuppie kids on the cheerleading squad perform. Then they would leave before the game.
The Blind Side is for them.
The Blind Side is guilty of a myriad number of penalties and misplays. They're a result of a director/writer who goes for an easy score. But there's no unnecessary roughness; there isn't even any necessary roughness.
On one level it works. On CinemaScore, which registers opening night audience response, the audience gave The Blind Side an A+.
On another more important level -- truth/humanity -- it fails. Screenwriters and directors of sports movies seldom trust the truth. They hoke up meaningful stories such as We Are Marshall (2006) and Friday Night Lights (2004) to get facile, unquestioned, reflexive responses from their audience.
The Blind Side is an example of how some critics differ from most audiences. Audiences love movies, but critics are in love with movies. For most audiences, movies are a one-night stand; for critics, movies are a lasting relationship.
Critics know the names and artistry of their beloved -- directors, cinematographers, editors, screenwriters, et al. Audiences might remember an actor in the morning.
The Blind Side, sloppily based on Michael Lewis' nonfiction book, is the story of Michael Oher, a huge African-American from the projects and streets of Memphis, Tennessee, whom a wealthy white family on the other side of town, takes in.
The Tuohy family is Leigh Anne, Sean, their daughter Collins, and little son S.J. Because of Leigh Anne's willpower, Big Mike -- eventually called Michael -- goes to private school, excels playing football, and goes on to play at the University of Mississippi. He was drafted into the NFL and starts as left tackle on the Baltimore Ravens.
It's an uplifting story, but in the movie it's a story of black and white told through shades of pink. It's all pastels. Michael Oher has found fault with the book, and especially how the movie portrays him as a young man.
My reservations are larger. I certainly don't insist on being literal, but when a film changes reality just to soften it and make it as palatable as pablum, I resist. Especially when it discards integrity.
The Blind Side begins with some authenticity -- Leigh Anne's voice-over explaining the importance of the left tackle, as footage on the screen shows Redskins' quarterback Joe Theismann's shocking career-ending injury. There's footage of qb Matt Hasselbeck running the ball.
But the authenticity begins and ends there -- and doesn't reappear until the final credits. As the story of Big Mike evolves, authenticity is annihilated. About halfway through, The Blind Side becomes a cartoon. Baby Huey Meets Auntie Mame.
In a tale of prevailing over grit and dirt, there's no grit or dirt. Although Big Mike often lives on the streets in bad weather, he is nearly immaculate. As Joe Biden might say, he's very clean.
One of the biggest misconceptions about movies is that a film based on actuality is true. It seldom is. These movies usually avoid any truth that might unsettle the feel-good vibe.
In The Blind Side, Mike's mother is a crack cocaine addict, but a nice one. In actuality Mike was one of thirteen children, but in the movie he only has one brother. It's a telling metaphor. In the movie about 11/13's of reality is cut out.
The Blind Side is relentlessly feel-good.
Even the bigots -- Leigh Anne's wealthy tablemates at a restaurant -- are nice. A little uppity but nice. Don't worry, Leigh Anne verbally smacks them down.
Leigh Anne also silences a redneck at a game. And she insults a drug dealer on his turf. She threatens him, "I'm a member of the NRA, and I'm always packing." At this point in any real world, she'd be packing a cap in her skull.
In a vapid gesture to authenticity, director Hancock casts actual coaches -- Saban, Orgeron, Holtz, Tuberville, Fullmer, and Houston Nutt. Ironically Tuberville and Fullmer have been forced out of their respective coaching jobs.
Nutt has gone on from Arkansas to Ole Miss. Nutt now may realize that a left tackle though valuable in not as valuable as an accurate quarterback, which he doesn't have. But in the world of Hancock and Nutt, accuracy may not be a priority.
"You couldn't have actors playing coaches," said Hancock. Who's he kidding? The parade of actual coaches is like beauty contestants at a pageant -- without the talent competition.
The cast of The Blind Side is serviceable. Sandra Bullock is believably absurd as Leigh Anne. Tim McGraw, as Leigh Anne's husband, plays wallpaper convincingly. Quinton Aaron is properly hulking and sympathetic as the fabled Mike. Can you imagine, that in the name of "authenticity" if athletic Boston Celtic Big Baby Davis, who was considered, had been cast as Mike? It's hard to believe, but perhaps that gimmick was even too much for director John Lee Hancock. They went with an actor.
Jae Head plays the terribly precocious younger brother. Who thought a young kid could mug so shamelessly and so much? The scenes between him and the various coaches are absolute schlock.
Hancock can't resist cliches. There is a scene where Collins Tuohy (Lily Collins) leaves a table of girlfriends in the high school cafeteria and sits with Big Mike. That hasn't been done before.
In the excellent sports movie The Rookie (2002) Hancock avoided most of the pandering pitfalls, but in The Blind Side he embraces them.
In The Blind Side Hancock is captain of Team Platitude. The Blind Side is not true. It contrives, it bleaches, it sweetens, it dehumanizes.
The Blind Side is a crowd-pleasing white wash. Let the cash register ring.