Blind Side, the - Coming on your right...
| Honestly, after all of the negative press surrounding The Blind Side after its improbable inclusion on the list of the Academy’s top ten films of 2009, I was willing to look the other way and give it a shot. After a long week, something unabashedly “feel-good” seemed to be just the ticket. Who, after-all, doesn’t like to feel good?
Problems with The Blind Side are magnified for those of us with certain sensibilities. I don’t want to get all general and suggest that if you liked The Blind Side, you fall into category A, and if you didn’t, you’re a B person. However, if a film can be measured by the motivations of its collective “stand up and cheer moments”, then I’m going to say that those who were unapologetically moved by The Blind Side, without being at least slightly offended by its tastes, might simply fall into a category that I tend to steer clear of as a general rule.
The Blind Side gives us the true life story of Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Michael Oher and it gives it to us as a Hallmark Presents melodrama with a far-right moral make-up, a cloying supporting performance by a child actor who’s likely going to be embarrassed by it for the rest of his life, and an often offensive and insulting rescue story that crosses well into the territory of black ghetto tourism.
Aside from Sandra Bullock’s performance, which is good if not great, The Blind Side has little to offer that isn’t second-rate. Even the score sounds like something that I could have created on Garage Band ’07 without the tutorial. There’s one thing worse than a clichéd football game climax, and that is one that’s scored badly.
Worse than that though, is the laughable revelation of a big (and apparently stupid) guy who can only be told what to do by his new mama if she puts the game into baby terms that he can understand. We are to watch and cheer as our central character finally realizes his potential, and in so doing, runs the length of the field, while holding and blocking an abusive opposing player – through the end zone, and over the wall. Sadly, this will not be your only Forest Gump flashback.
Aside from the overall quality of the film, there were just a few things that I take issue with as a viewer. After a promising narrative opening, it didn’t take long for me to clue in to the fact that this movie just wasn’t going to be for me.
A lot has already been said, by Bullock, and by her real-life Alias (Mrs. Leigh Anne Tuohy) in response to accusations that this film negatively portrays blacks, and irresponsibly glamorizes the adoption of a poor black boy into a privileged white southern family. It’s tough to argue with the facts: Oher was taken-in and through this family’s generosity, was given an opportunity to achieve an elite education and to play professional football. It’s easy to see that such opportunities simply could not have been afforded the same man had he not been able to escape his crime and drug-addled past. An act of kindness on the part of the Tuohys made this happen. Here indeed is opportunity for a story.
But here’s where the argument is lost for me – as a film-maker, knowing from the point of conception that you will be dealing with a story that touches on such volatile issues as race gentrification and appropriation of voice , you might want to be a little careful with how you choose to dramatize the reality. I’m not saying that you need to politically correct yourself at every turn, but for instance:
1) Don’t make this story about Christianity. My name isn’t Kirk Cameron, so I’m likely not going to buy your suggestion that such acts of kindness come solely from those who dress-up on Sundays. The Blind Side wants you on the side of the Christian High School coach who criticizes his fellow faculty for not being “Christian enough” in their reluctance to accept Michael into the school, without acknowledging that obvious fact that he only wants Michael for his size and potential as a left tackle for his team.
2) Don’t have your white red-necked family buy their newly adopted black future NFLer a pick-up truck as a gift, and cap it off by suggesting in so many words that he wants to be a red-neck too.
3) Don’t make your white hero mother character walk into an impoverished black Memphis ghetto to confront her son’s former neighbor’s with the following retort: “If you so much as set foot downtown, you will be sorry. I'm in a prayer group with the D.A., I'm a member of the NRA and I'm always packing.” If this is your film’s biggest applause line, you might be a red-neck.
4) Don’t suggest that your central black character is a simpleton. It’s understandable to portray someone with the childhood of Michael Oher as having difficulty improving his grades in high school, but it’s quite another to suggest that he has the cognitive capabilities of a 3 year-old when learning new things, and that he can be swayed by ghost stories, like he’s listening to big brother Buzz whispering about old neighborhood shovelers who turn neighborhood kids into mummies.
You know what I was thinking as I watched The Blind Side? Two things mainly: how much Sarah Palin would enjoy cozying-up with Todd and the kids to watch this film, and that the real Michael Oher is likely horrifically disappointed in the misrepresentation of himself that exists on the screen.
If you're brave enough to make this specific lead character a sympathetic one as opposed to an empathetic one, and you're doing this not only aware of, but also boldly brandishing the politics that such a move suggests, then don’t be surprised by my response.
Somewhere, in the late fall of 2009, the real Michael Oher sat down to watch a movie about his life, wondering why the world is now about to see him as a lucky black guy who met the right white Republicans, and who’s just kinda big… and kinda dumb… kinda like the movie he now inhabits.