Movies: The Blind Side * * *
Sandra Bullock's Oscar-winning turn in The Blind Side arrives on our shores somewhat after the event. And while foreknowledge of a big performance might incline some to enter the cinema determined to be unimpressed, few would begrudge a rare award to as likeable a star as Bullock. (She, remember, did also turn up at this year's Razzies to collect her Worst Actress gong in person).
Her portrayal of feisty southern mom Lee Anne Tuohy dominates this film, and is probably her strongest non-comic performance to date. And it's one of the definite plus points of an intermittently entertaining but relentlessly schmaltzy piece of work.
In fact, if The Blind Side wasn't based on a true story, we'd be accusing its makers of everything from Disneyfication of the deep south to the worst kind of 60s paternalism. But happen it did, and all because of Lee Anne Tuohy.
She is a Memphis-based interior designer and all-round whirlwind of a working mother whose children, SJ and Collins, attend a prestigious Christian school called Briarcrest. Her husband Sean is a former basketball star and multi-millionaire fast-food magnate, and the Tuohys live in regal splendour in a vast Memphis mansion.
Lee Anne is a staunch republican and a member of the National Rifle Association, but she's no smallminded bigot, and she gets to prove this when her talkative son SJ befriends a new boy at school. 'Big Mike' (Quinton Aaron) is a huge but gentle black teenager who has arrived at the school on a sports scholarship. Little is known about his background other than the fact that he seems to have no parents, and his low grades to date suggest he's not the sharpest tool in the shed.
Some of the teachers don't believe he should be at the school at all, and if he doesn't up his grades pretty sharpish he'll be kicked out. He wanders forlornly in the playground of the predominantly white school until little SJ befriends him. Lee Anne spots this, and begins to take an interest. When she finds out that Big Mike doesn't even have a roof over his head, she makes a big decision fast and decides to take him in.
She does this on a wing and a prayer, having no idea whatsoever about Big Mike's disposition or his background. But the more she finds out, the more worth she sees in the boy and, while her country club friends are nonplussed and inclined to sneer, Lee Anne is not the kind for turning. She bonds with Big Mike and becomes a precious guiding influence in his life.
She discovers that he was abandoned as a child by his crack-addicted mother, and has since lacked a parental influence of any kind. He's not stupid either, and when she hires a private tutor for him, he blossoms. Mike's biggest problem seems to be an excessive gentleness when it comes to football, but Lee Anne has an answer for this too.
Lee Anne takes Mike aside and tells him that he should look on his teammates as his family (he's very protective), and pretend the quarterback is her. The ruse works, and Mike becomes an outstanding 'left tackle' and a target for the college scouts. But his loyalty to his new family will be sorely tested before he makes his choice between the colleges.
As you'd expect, The Blind Side is heartwarming stuff, but writer/director John Lee Hancock lays on the sentiment with a trowel, and at more than two hours the film is at least 20 minutes too long.
You can see exactly who Hancock and his producers were aiming at, and I'm sure the film's jokes about democrats and gun-toting soccer moms went down a bomb in the deep midwest.
But there's something very disturbing about the paternalistic attitude that pervades this film, as though Big Mike were an errant puppy waiting to be tamed by good old southern family values. And Hancock and co should thank heaven for Bullock's easy charm.