Friday, February 12, 2010

"The Blind Side" Review

I'm no sports fan, so I suppose "The Blind Side" was already fighting an uphill battle for my praise. I dislike the film, but not because the characters are interested in things like high school football, college football, and videogame football, but because they exist in a world without lasting consequence. That John Lee Hancock, the writer and director, wants to deliver an upbeat, entertaining film proves his Achilles' heel; he omits clear dramatic potential in favor of sitcomy euphemism.

His breezy plot, based on the true story of a Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman, whisks conflict aside for "Big Mike" Oher (Quentin Aaron), who lumbers his way from kindly mentor to kindly mentor, without any indication or expression of the hard life he's led. The film unfolds almost serendipitously for the teen, who is enrolled in private schooling, gets taken in by a wealthy southern family, gradually wins over his teachers, receives a brand new truck as a birthday gift, and is on the fast track to play football for "Ole Miss" University. In short, it's hard to feel bad for a guy that has so much going for him.

I don't mean to undermine the personal tragedies that the real life Michael Oher endured, but we really never get a visceral sense of that reality in the film. We meet Big Mike well after the majority of his neglect and trauma has occurred, and he really hits a terrific string of luck. He isn't the victim of any direct prejudice in his seemingly all-white southern suburb, and the kindly family that takes him in, led by headstrong matriarch Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), seems to adapt to his disruption of their family dynamic instantaneously. The tiresome thesis of the film is that the Tuohys are just really great people.

This makes for a surface-level heartwarmer, and I suppose audiences shouldn't be ridiculed for appreciating the film on that criteria, but to me, what's missing underneath is all the more apparent for it. Hancock would have done well to introduce us to Big Mike at the gritty bottom: one of twelve children of a crack-addicted mother, in turns homeless, under foster care, and a struggling student in a revolving door of unsupportive schools. Being taken in by the Tuohys would make a better midpoint for Michael's story, and provide a better sense of the dichotomy of his two lives.

If only by narrative necessity, Hancock eventually throws in isolated sequences of hard drama, but which have almost uniformly negligible impact on the story. For example, Big Mike totals his new truck with Leigh Anne's son in the passenger seat--the paramedics show up, they wheel out the stretcher, and it turns out everybody's fine. The following scene plays out as though the crash didn't even happen. Or later on, the NCAA suspects the Tuohys of forcing Ole Miss on Mike after a heated vetting, which leads him to a brief identity crisis (even though he's always been fiercely loyal to his foster parents)--after which he decides he wanted to play there all along.

These internally-resolved conflict blips are so lonely in the cheerful world of the film that they draw attention to themselves by sheer contrast. Admittedly, I prefer Hancock's optimistic storytelling to an excess in melodrama, but it leaves "The Blind Side" starkly overlong and unsatisfying. The film depicts the great things that happen to Michael Oher without providing the context that makes them meaningful. Hancock is under the bizarre assumption that Leigh Anne Tuohy is his protagonist, and the film is more a tribute to the family that hosted Big Mike than the man himself.

I'm no sports fan, but you don't need to be one to call Hancock out. "The Blind Side" is a bust.


No comments:

Post a Comment