The Blind Side (2009) dir. John Lee Hancock
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Jae Head and Kathy Bates
By Greg Klymkiw
Watching people be nice to other people is, for the most part, pretty boring. It's simply and unequivocally not very interesting and as such, makes for poor drama. In fact, it pretty much makes for NO drama at all. As Frank Capra proved on so many occasions, the only time in the movies that seeing people be nice to other people had anything in the way of dramatic impact was when the feel-good cinematic epiphanies were preceded by pain, suffering and/or conflict of the most unbearable kind.
"The Blind Side" is pretty unbearable, too, but not because the movie drags us through hot coals to get to the nirvana of feel-good, but because it's just so unbearably... feel-good.
Based on the true story of rich White people who helped a poor Black boy become a football player, "The Blind Side" could have been unbearable on the same kind of political grounds that so many movies have been where rich White people are seen as the real heroes in the salvation of Black people from their "lowly" station. This, however, is the least of the movie's problems.
The picture's biggest failing is that a lot happens, but for most of the film's running time it feels like not much of ANYTHING has happened.
Real-life football legend Michael Oher (surname pronounced like "oar") is fictionally presented to us in his adolescence as a big, quiet, seemingly oafish, physically powerful and possibly retarded Black boy - kind of like Lenny from "Of Mice and Men". His Momma is a crack addict, but luckily, a kindly neighbour from the wrong side of the Memphis tracks has not only provided him with a home, but is especially kind to him by taking the lad to a high-toned private Christian school to get an education and possibly a sports scholarship. The Coach at the school also proves to be very kind to Michael and fights the good fight with the school administration to let him be admitted as a student. Some of the teachers are not pleased with his lack of academic prowess, but sooner than you can say, "White people are the saviours of Black people", the Science teacher realizes how smart he is and becomes very kind to him. Soon, all the teachers are kind to him (with the exception of the nasty English teacher who thinks he is an illiterate moron).
Alas, Michael becomes homeless when the kindly fellow from the beginning of the movie is unable to extend further kindness since his offscreen wife (like in "Diner" where we hear, but don't see Steve Guttenberg's wife-to-be) wants this large homeless boy off their couch. Michael sleeps where he can, hand washes his clothes in a laundromat and dries them in dryers left spinning and unattended. Still, this is a minor setback since by this point, so many people have been kind to him, that it's merely a matter of running time before someone will be kind to him again.
In the school yard, for example, when Michael sees some cute little girls on the swings and tries to give them a push, they run away - thinking, perhaps, that he's Chester the Child Molester. Well, sooner than you can say, "White people say wise things to Black people they could never have thought of by themselves," in walks a horrendously cute little White boy (Jae Head) who is quick with the wisecracks and overflowing with precocity. "Try smiling," Whitey says to the hulking, dour Black boy. And Goldurn' all ta' hail, if'n dis' don't work wonders. Michael smiles and soon, this 200 pounds of brawn is happily pushing pubescent girlies on the swings. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but this CAN work for child molesters, mais non?)
At this point in the proceedings, things could be going a lot worse for our hero, but so far, people have been kind to him. Then one night, the rain comes down like cats and dogs. The White boy and his family drive by our drenched hero and the Mom (Sandra Bullock) is shocked that this boy is homeless. Quicker than you can say, "Rich White people are the only ones who can put roofs over the heads of homeless Black people," she lets him sleep in their suburban mini-mansion. At first, he sleeps on the couch, but when his girth threatens to collapse it, Mom kindly buys a bed and gives him his own room.
Mom takes a real shine to this silent oaf and proceeds, for most of the film's interminable running time, to be... you guessed it!... kind to him. Her kindness is overflowing. One scene after another follows where Mom is not only kind to him, but gets others to be kind to him to.
One of Mom's friends remarks, "You're really changing that boy's life." Mom stares off wistfully and says, "No, he's changing mine." How he's changing HER life is a tad beyond me. She's gorgeous, has a gorgeous husband, two gorgeous kids, a gorgeous mansion and a gorgeous wardrobe. Since she's been very kind to him already, one can only suspect that her life changes since she becomes even MORE kind to him. Eventually, everything this Black boy deserves is handed to him on a silver platter - thanks to the kindness of Mom and so many other kind White people.
But wait! Conflict is on the horizon! To get into college to play football, our hero needs a higher Grade Point Average.Well, you might be surprised to hear this, but Mom hires him a private tutor (Kathy Bates). Damn, this tutor is good! And most of all, she is so kind to him. Even more surprising is that his teachers are kind to him and give him the support he needs to get the grades he needs.
But, hark! Do I hear the sound of even more conflict a-rumbling?
You bet! Remember that mean English teacher? Well, he's still pretty mean and it looks like he might not give our boy the grade he needs.
Oops, false alarm! He's kind too. Those pesky English teachers may seem like old sticks in the mud, but deep down, they're very kind - especially when they're White and want to teach some hard academic lessons to Black people that other White people are afraid to teach.
During the last few minutes of the movie, there is one final bit of conflict when a mean Black lady puts some bad ideas into our hero's head about the rich White lady who is so kind to him and he goes back to the Projects where he meets some not-very-nice Black boys and things get a tiny bit too unpleasant for all concerned.
Thankfully, this does not last long. Kindness rules and all is well again.
Written (I use the term loosely here) and directed (so to speak) by John Lee Hancock, "The Blind Side" is a movie that has very little going for it - no drama, virtually no conflict or tension, a running time that feels at least forty five minutes too long, a vaguely foul odour of racial condescension and globs of un-earned feel-good.
If, however, there is a plus-side to this odious trough of pap, it's oddly displayed in the presence and performance of Sandra Bullock. She is someone I always found incredibly hard to take. Her earnest perkiness, a perpetually stupid grin plastered on that long, horsey face and a yippy-yappy voice that made me long for the incessant barking of a rabid chihuahua always inspired in me a considerable expulsion of bile.
These feelings eventually shifted from nut-sack squeezing to admiration and, I must shyly admit to a regained firmness of a key appendage at the very sight of her. Somewhere around the time of her appearance in Paul Haggis's heavy-handed, overrated glorified TV-movie "Crash", Bullock blossomed into something far more palatable and genuinely appealing. Some age, some maturity, some well-placed heft on her frame have all contributed to the enhancement of her ability to woo the lens of the camera. She also invested her peformance in "Crash" and the flawed, but underrated Alejandro Agresti film "The Lake House" with the kind of chops I never realized she had. In the latter title, she actually moved me. And no, it wasn't a bowel movement. The girl made me cry. And Christ Almighty! I even found her sexy and funny in "The Proposal".
In "The Blind Side", she commands the screen like a pitbull - ravaging the lens with the kind of intensity I wish the movie itself had. Her performance has Oscar-bait written all over it, but within that context, I'd have to say it's entirely deserved.
If "The Blind Side" moves Bullock into a different stream of roles; to movies that might really matter, then I, for one, won't be too sad to see this happen. In spite of my loathing for this otherwise woeful excuse for a movie, I might eventually thank its existence for signalling the kind of blossoming of a star that isn't merely machine-tooled by the industry, but has been, all on her own steam, grown into and earned honestly.
In the meantime, though, we must contend with the fact that "The Blind Side" - an inexplicably huge hit at the North American boxoffice - is, as a movie, almost intolerable.