Dir. John Lee Hancock
(2009, PG-13, 129 min)
The most offensive scene in The Blind Side is also its most telling. Discussing the homeless boy they’ve taken in, Leigh Anne Tuohy and her husband Sean consider the value of bringing him to a child psychologist, only to dismiss it out of hand. “Forgetting is his gift,” says Sean. He doesn’t care about his past. He’s nice, gentle, and taciturn — and compliant, don’t forget compliant. He doesn’t bother anyone or ask for anything. As poor kids go, he’s by far the most convenient, so what’s a lifetime of abandonment and neglect compared to a little home cookin’ and some nice Christian folk?
Writer-director John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), working from a book by Michael Lewis, has no interest in poverty, or inner-city youth, or crime. He’s interested in the self-congratulatory glint in the eyes of wealthy white people when they learn about poverty, inner-city youth, and crime. He’s interested in cutaways to their sad, sympathetic faces when they find out how the other half lives. He’s interested in hugs and puppies and rainbows, and in sanctifying and sanitizing every aspect of his characters’ lives so we can have a good cry without dealing with any of the issues at hand. This is a second-rate Lifetime movie-of-the-week; how did it end up at the Oscars?
Quinton Aaron stars as real-life street kid-turned-NFL star Michael Oher, depicted as the most non-threatening of black men, a big cuddly charity mascot whose simpleness teaches us how to love again … or something. Sandra Bullock plays sassy Leigh Anne, who sees him wandering the streets and invites him into her home with her passive-supportive husband (Tim McGraw) and perfectly well-behaved children: young son SJ (Jae Head), there to be cloying, precocious, and cute; and teenage daughter Collins (Lily Collins), who doesn’t question, talk back, or raise her voice. Family dinners and meetings play like outtakes from Stepford.
Hancock’s idea of the ghetto is black men drinking 40s — of beer! — and talking about your mama. His idea of racism is rednecks at a football game saying the circus is in town. There are cynical teachers who don’t believe in Michael until he shows them his perseverance, and wouldn’t you know there’s one last holdout who finally reads Michael’s touching essay about courage and looks up and away in contemplation — by God, he does understand! Such sentimentality is glopped on like spackle.
If you’re interested in why The Blind Side doesn’t work, rent the fourth season of HBO’s urban-crime drama The Wire for its devastating look at how various influences can alter the course of young men’s lives, in both tragic and encouraging ways. For an intelligent look at the differences of class and race in a football town, refer to the fourth season of Friday Night Lights, recently completed on DirecTV and set to air on NBC this summer. Those shows are also about young men on the brink, but unlike The Blind Side, they know it matters where they came from and what has happened to them.