Sandra Bullock as Leigh Anne Touhy
Tim McGraw as Sean Tuohy
Quinton Aaron as Michael Oher
Jae Head as S.J. Tuohy
Lily Collins as Collins Tuohy
Ray McKinnon as Coach Cotton
Kim Dickens as Mrs. Boswell
Adriane Lenox as Denise Oher
Kathy Bates as Miss Sue
Catherine Dyer as Mrs. Smith
Andy Stahl as Principal Sandstrom
Tom Nowicki as Literature Teacher
The old saying is there are only seven original plots, repeated over and over again. When it comes to the sports film, there are really only two: the players overcome all obstacles and win, or they lose but discover their own strength in the process. And maybe that’s a good thing, as it forces filmmakers to focus more on their characters and what sets them apart from everyone else, rather than the mechanics of the narrative.
Which makes the true story of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) such an excellent starting point. A young man from the poor side of Memphis, he had no family or home to speak of–sleeping in empty buildings or the odd acquaintances couch–and seemed destined for a life on the streets. His obvious physical gifts are enough to get him enrolled in a private high school, but the strange new social situation and the psychological damage of his youth may have proved to be insurmountable if he hadn’t been stopped on the side of the road one day by maybe the least likely person imaginable, a wealthy white upper class socialite and mother (Sandra Bullock).
It’s an inspiring story to say the least, and one in which the sport aspect while important is only tangentially related to the actual drama. Whether or not Michael will ever be good at sports is ultimately besides the point, the real question is whether or not he can get over his own past as well as truly accept and be accepted by the family he has been brought into regardless of their differences.
Stuff that sounds so obviously inspiring is tricky, though, when it comes to bringing it to the screen with film’s easy ability to over emote, to blow up every emotion till its 30 feet high. And that is the one great failing of John Lee Hancock’s (“The Alamo”) adaptation of Michael Lewis’ “The Blind Side.” It is pat, through and through.
The Tuohy’s, to their credit, immediately take to Michael despite some rational reservations, but then they quickly and efficiently steam roll over every problem thrown in their way, usually through matriarch Leigh Anne’s perspicacity and straight-talking. A car wreck injuring Michael and her youngest son (Jae Head)? Only a momentary annoyance. His difficulty understanding his role on a football field? Leigh Anne’s got the answer for that, too, thanks to a fortunately exacting personality profile that pegged his protective impulse at 95% (how exactly do you quantify that?).
It’s got the easy set up and return volley of an after school special, with little in the way of real drama. The closest approximation is Michael’s confusion and fear of the world he came from – but he returns to it so seldom it’s more of a mood piece that is touched on now and again than it is a conflict.
Which is probably because Michael himself isnt much of a character. Hes in the film a lot, he reacts to what happens around him, but he tends to keep everything bottled up inside, so much so that theres no clue as to what he actually thinks and feels about anything. It’s fine for him to keep that from the other characters, but not from the audience. And what little we do get from him tends to come entirely through the lens of Leigh Anne.
There’s a lot that should be great about “The Blind Side.” Leigh Anne is a great idea for a character, just as it’s a great idea for a movie. She reacts to the world around her with bravery and humanism, taking people as they are and treating them as human beings regardless of the gulf in class, wealth or relatable experience.
But it’s done so lazily; it’s a drama without drama, more of a day dream with a happy ending than a story. Real inspiration requires real struggle and while the real Michael Oher certainly did, that’s only hinted at in “The Blind Side,” and hints aren’t enough.
“The Blind Side’s” heart is in the right place–how could it not be, it’s got so much to go around–but that’s about all that is. It’s a little too clumsy, a little too ‘feel good’ for its own good. There’s a good story in there, one that’s probably worth experiencing, but load up on insulin before you go.