This is one of those stories that would be cloying and eyeball-rolling if it were not true (or at least we’re told it is true). A hulking practically mute teenage African-American kid who is poor and homeless is adopted into the folk of a wealthy white family. The kid is pulled up by his academic bootstraps within one school year, graduates from high school, and has college scrambling to give him a football scholarship. And now he is a professional football player making millions. It sounds made up, but this is the story of Michael Oher.
Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and Sean Tuohy (Tim McGraw) live in their mansion on the decidedly swank side of town in Memphis. In fact, the only reason they even cross paths with Big Mike (Quinton Aaron) is because he has been admitted to their kids’ private Christian school out of Christian charity… and a sort of pity. Even though he is couch-surfing, then later not really living anywhere, this big kid has potential to be an athlete, so the school gives him a chance (with nudging from the football coach). This alone says a lot about American schools, but at least they acknowledge that he has to get his grades up (from a 0.6 GPA) to even be considered to play. The teachers are frustrated by this mute (and dumb? they wonder) kid who shows up wearing the same clothes every day, with his spare T-shirt in a plastic bag.
One chilly night, the Tuohy’s are driving down the street, and see Michael shuffling along, wearing shorts, clutching his bag, and shivering. They pull over, Leigh Anne asks him if he has anywhere to go (“Don’t YOU lie to me!” sassy Sandy demands), and next thing he knows he is sleeping on their couch and joining the Tuohy family for Thanksgiving dinner. After a short time, as it is clear that he has no other options, they ask if he would like to stay.
The story is too good to be true… except that it IS true. Perhaps the story has resonated with so many people is because it espouses good Christian values. And I say that with absolutely no snarkiness. In fact, the Tuohy’s come across as completely unselfish saints (well, as unselfish as people with lots and lots of materials goods can be). The Blind Side can only make you wonder: What if more well-to-do Christians practiced what they are preached, and literally opened their homes and wallets to the needy. It is a tricky subject, as even Leigh Anne’s society friends wonder aloud if she is doing it because of white guilt. And eventually the NCAA wonders if the Tuohys are doing it to personally recruit a star football player to their own alma mater of Ole Miss.
Like I said, The Blind Side is a great story, but the film itself is very pedestrian and unmemorable somehow. Quinton Aaron is a capable actor as Michael, but other than his massive physical presence, his personality doesn’t really light up the screen. Each time he shares a scene with another actor, whether it be Bullock, or the kids that plays his white siblings (Jae Head, who is a hoot, and Lily Collins), they completely steal the scene. Country singer Tim McGraw once again proves he has a fine screen presence and he and Bullock have a nice, real chemistry as partners. But of course, everyone is talking about Sandra Bullock. Her Leigh Anne Tuohy is brave, brash, and ballsy. This may not be quite her Erin Brockovich, but the role is along those lines, as Leigh blows in, props her spangled designer sunglasses on her head, and dominates every moment she is on screen. It’s great to watch her chew through scenes with Southern attitude, but it is too bad that the rest of this feel-good movie is kind of meh.