I was almost in “The Blind Side.” Kind of.
It was shot last June at my Georgia prep school and they paid extras to sit in the football stands all night. When I sent in my headshot, I never heard back. I heard later that they wanted mostly Caucasian extras to create an “accurate Southern football game” feel.
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That was my overall impression of “The Blind Side” — white people, the South and football.
The film, with Oscar nominations in the categories of Best Picture and Best Actress, is directed by John Lee Hancock and stars the self-marketing machine that is Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Tuohy, a WASPy housewife with spunk and country music star Tim McGraw as her husband Sean. The story follows the rise of football legend Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a black Tennessee boy from the wrong side of town who is adopted by a rich white family. Despite being practically illiterate and a newbie to the game of football, he excels on his mostly white Southern private school’s team and soon has every major college football coach drooling over him. Oher plays what I understand to be a traditionally non-glamorous position in football — the left offensive tackle — whose job it is to protect the quarterback’s “blind side” on the field.
The film is based on Michael Lewis’s popular book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game.” As I’m told by my more football-savvy brother, the book’s strength lies in its dual nature as biography and as a discussion of the strategy and history of the game. But when Sandra Bullock brings it to life, we don’t get close to that level of complexity.
Instead, we get a few other things:
1. Cliché, cliché, cliché
Bullock’s exaggerated southern drawl is most painful to listen to when we are subjected to her overly moralistic voice-overs. Too many times we hear a comparison between the teamwork on the field and that required of a real-life family trying to pull it all together and by the time I heard her speech on how important it is to watch each other’s backs, just like — gasp! — her adopted son does as the left tackle on the field, I was groaning into my popcorn.
2. A sickly sweet version of an already sickly sweet story
Oher’s story is true and like most great sports stories, is remarkable in its own right. But Hancock coats it with a layer made up of browbeating, formulaic faux-inspiration and downright cheesiness. Oher’s character development from “Big Mike” from the wrong side of town to Michael, the happy member of the Tuohy family seems one-dimensional, largely because the film spends so little time on Aaron and so much time on Bullock. Though some elements hit the right note (the Tuohys’ son Sean Junior or “SJ” played by Jae Head provides a delightful bit of comedic timing), the whole experience feels exaggerated and overdone.
3. Too. Much. Sandra. Bullock.
If the story is about legendary Michael Oher, why is it really a movie about Bullock? Though I agree with some pundits’ consensus that this is probably Bullock’s most impressive performance … I’m not sure that’s saying a lot. Everything about her performance — from her new blonde hair to her attempt to paint Leigh Anne Tuohy as responsible for all of Oher’s success — seems fake.
“The Blind Side” takes a personal story and makes it a cliché. Aaron’s portrayal of Oher does not afford him personality beyond humble gratefulness to the Tuohys for saving him. Bullock’s domination of the screen seems disingenuous and, like many a bad sports movie, the conclusion ties everything up into neat, easy packages. Race is portrayed in line with stereotypical preconceptions and the end product is simply not believable.
My only hope is that the film’s presence on the Oscar nominee list was a tremendous fluke and that the Academy will see the light at the end of the month. But if I have to listen to Sandra Bullock’s acceptance speech, all I’ll be able to do is snort and imagine her saying, “I really do want world peace!”