The Blind Side
My feeling is, a movie like this either works for you, or it doesn’t. With me, much depends on the performances, and this one was sold to me, big-time, by Sandra Bullock. Lordamighty, that girl has chosen some real bad shit since her knockout debut in Speed, including the very recent All About Steve, which achieved a 17 rating at Metacritic on its way to flopping. I haven’t seen it, and may not, but apparently almost everybody hated it. Even the poster sucked.
But she nails this one, with a strong performance in a strong based-on-fact story. It’s simple enough. A very large black kid from a terrible background is taken in by a rich family in Memphis, and eventually legally adopted. He is emotionally shut down and everyone thinks he’s stupid, but boy, would they like to get him on the football team! So with tutoring, and coaching, he becomes a star, goes to Ole Miss, and just last year was signed by the Baltimore Ravens for something like $13,000,000. I like a story like this if it’s done right, and I think they hit all the right notes, centering around Bullock, who plays Leigh Anne Tuohy as a take-no-prisoners force of nature, and manages to stay away from the more blatant tear-jerking.
The main objection raised by some critics (including some who loathed it just because of this) was racism. You know, sweet white people intervening and rescuing this rather simple boy from the clutches of poverty, drugs, and street crime. I have a problem with this perspective because the fact is, the dude needed saving. Does anybody doubt that? Is it likely that he could have rescued himself? He was homeless; that’s as desperate as it gets. His crack whore mother has eleven or twelve kids, she’s not sure how many. Would it have mattered if he were white? Would that make it look okay? I think there’s some racist thinking in the idea that it’s somehow bad because it was a white couple that helped raise this man out of despair and uselessness.
But there is a grain of truth in the accusation, and the movie acknowledges it. Viewed from the outside, without knowing of the genuine love that developed between Michael and his adoptive family, the situation could look a little suspect. The NCAA sees it that way, when he decides to go to Ole Miss, which just happens to be the alma mater of both the Tuohy’s and the tutor they hired to goose his GPA up to an acceptable level. Did they do it for him, or for themselves? Did they exert unfair influence on him, when it was pretty clear he preferred Tennessee? Would people stoop that low? You bet they would, in the crazy world of college football. We see the recruiters arriving, unable to offer money but dangling every other enticement they can dream up. (Some of them were played by real college football coaches.) You bet these football fanatics in the south would do pretty much anything for a left tackle like Michael.
Leigh Anne realizes this when Michael is told how the family might be treating him as a prime piece of livestock (which, let’s face it, all college prospects are, white or black), and briefly rebels. She realizes she’s never even asked him if he likes to play football. His answer: “I’m good at it.” Which says a lot. And the hard fact is, without football, the best Michael can hope for is a solid middle-class existence. (He’s not as dumb as he seems; he graduated with respectable grades and a degree.) There’s nothing wrong with such an existence, but the question he has to answer is, does he want to take a shot at becoming a celebrity and a millionaire doing something he basically doesn’t like all that much. I know how I’d answer. I’m 6’6”, and the despair of all the high school coaches at Nederland High School. The tallest kid in school, and he can’t dribble, can’t jump, can’t shoot, and doesn’t give a rat’s ass for basketball anyway. But, if I could jump and shoot, and the pros were interested in me, I’d somehow have found it in me to suffer through a few multi-million-dollar seasons. Michael has made that choice, too. I think most people would.