Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 11, 2010)
Here come four words I thought I’d never write: “Sandra Bullock, Oscar winner”. That doesn’t serve as a judgment on her talent. Instead, it reflects Bullock’s film choices. Bullock specializes in romantic comedies, and flicks of that sort don’t get Oscar love.
Inspirational sports-related movies like 2009’s The Blind Side don’t usually earn Academy affection either, but the film was such a hit that Oscar couldn’t ignore it. Blind Side came out of nowhere to become 2009’s biggest sleeper. With a gross around $250 million, it turned into a certified smash.
And it transformed Our Sandy into a serious actor, apparently. Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) grows up with a crack-addicted mom, a deadbeat dad, and a crummy education. He gets to sleep on the couch at a friend’s house for a while but eventually loses that “privilege”.
The pal’s dad does help Mike enroll in a private Christian school, where “Big Mike’s” athletic potential opens doors. However, he finds it awfully hard to fit in there – at least until a wealthy mom-about-town named Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) develops an interest in him. She takes him under his wing and gives him a place to stay as well as someone to care about him.
This motherly tendency goes down a different path when Michael plays for the school’s football team. A true “gentle giant”, Michael lacks the killer instinct to be an on-field force. However, he possesses great protectiveness, and Leigh Anne pushes that button to get him to live up to his potential. We follow Michael’s progress on the field and in real life as he becomes part of the Tuohy family.
Any review of Blind Side written after March 7, 2010, should probably start with the big question: did Bullock deserve an Oscar for her turn as Leigh Anne? In short, no, but that doesn’t act as a slam on her performance, which is pretty good.
Instead, it’s a judgment that the role and the film are so lightweight that it’s tough to view Bullock’s work as really award-worthy. I feel a bit hypocritical when I say that, as I often gripe that the Oscars ignore actors who don’t play Major Roles. It rarely matters how good a performance in an action flick or a comedy is; those actors find it very hard to get Oscar nominations, at least in the lead category; the Academy’s more open to less serious work in the supporting vein.
I don’t judge Blind Side as lightweight because it’s not about war or the Holocaust or whatever. I judge it as lightweight because it’s simply an insubstantial take on its subject. Blind Side bears a strong resemblance to efforts like Remember the Titans and writer/director John Lee Hancock’s own The Rookie.
Absolutely nothing here deviates from that template. I don’t view that as a bad thing, but it does mean the flick lacks a great deal of depth. Much of it just seems too easy. For most of the flick’s running time, we get a simplistic take on its subject, as Michael’s journey comes with precious few obstacles. The story throws in some basic impediments toward the end, but the tone remains fluffy and fairly one-dimensional.
Which impacts upon the characters and thus makes it tough for the actors to rise above the level of the material. Bullock and the others give it their best shot, and they generally succeed. Bullock adds depth to a character who could’ve just been a Tough Southern Mama stereotype. She can’t quite make Leigh Anne a total human being, but again, the script undercuts the character; it doesn’t attempt to develop her beyond a basic level, and Bullock’s best efforts can’t fix that.
Aaron also does nicely as Michael. That role actually receives even less development than Leigh Anne, but Aaron gives him some heart. A good supporting cast fleshes out the rest of the parts well, though I must admit young Jae Head’s SJ is such a broad comedic character that he tends to annoy.
Because Blind Side tells a nice tale and does so in an enjoyable manner, I don’t want to come across as too hard on the film. In truth, it’s a pleasant and effective flick that delivers an uplifting message in an entertaining manner.
But so did Titans, Rookie and quite a few other flicks in this genre, which leaves me somewhat befuddled at the enormous success of Blind Side. I guess it just hit the public consciousness at the right time, as something about it clearly appealed to many people. It’s not like the flick made a skillion dollars right out of the gate and then fizzled ala Twilight: New Moon. Nope - Blind Side took the “slow and steady” approach to its massive box office receipts.
I admire that, as it’s nice to see a small movie like this succeed on its own merits rather than due to hype. Nonetheless, I just wish I could figure out why the audiences embraced Blind Side so much more than other very similar films. This is a professional, enjoyable movie but it’s not one that seems particularly distinguished.