Written & Directed by John Lee Hancock
Football movies and the Academy Awards is an interesting history to explore. A quick, cursory glance at all the films included in this marathon of mine finds a few Oscar winners and nominees. The films that were nominated for Best Picture: Heaven Can Wait, Jerry Maguire, and now this, The Blind Side. The only major Oscar winners are Cuba Gooding Jr. for Jerry Maguire and now this, Sandra Bullock for The Blind Side (Heaven Can Wait won for Art Direction while being nominated for 8 other awards in 1979). I am sure I missed some others in my quick research, but those three movies are the only ones that stood out as Oscar fare. What an odd bunch. The throughline for all three in addition to football is that they’re star driven: Warren Beatty, Tom Cruise and Sandra Bullock. But does it makes these three movies the best of the marathon? With The Blind Side, I can easily say “no”.
Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) is a gentle giant who has had a troubled childhood. When a friend’s father pushes for him to be admitted to a private Christian school, the football coach drools over Big Mike’s potential as an athlete. But the problem is his grades, which is rather poor. Michael has never known his father, and his mother is a drug addict who is unreliable. When forced into this new world, now homeless, Michael is taken in by a good family (Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Lily Collins, and Jae Head) whose Christian heart beams for this bright, young, talented man who simply needs to be given a chance. Michael soon proves all his doubters wrong, by improving his grades, and performing on the field to a degree where he begins to draw the recruiting eyes of all the powerhouse colleges in the south.
This version of a poker movie is a blend of many different things. It’s a true story. It’s a racial struggle story. It’s a biopic. The Michael Oher story is one I’m not well versed in, other than knowing about him as an NFL player. So when this movie came out, and it received all the attention it got (feel good movie of the year type reputation), including a Best Picture nomination and Best Actress win, I….didn’t see it? Yea, every year there seems to be an obvious movie you would think someone like me would see that I just miss. And I’ve not caught up with it until now. I really wonder how I would have responded to this film in 2009 upon its initial release. My movie tastes have certainly evolved, as has the industry in general. Perhaps I would have championed it, but seeing it in 2020, I find it rather generic.
The first two-thirds of the movie are more human interest than football. We get introduced to everybody, and see how Michael becomes a member of the Tuohy and the school. It’s a touching story and obvious the filmmakers are able to effectively capture the heart of not only the family but also of Michael, who is easy to root for given his circumstances. What struggled to connect with me were the performances from the cast. I was honestly a little surprised this Bullock performance won Best Actress (I looked up the other nominees afterward and I suppose it was a rather weak year for the category overall). Bullock is very animated and plays it pretty big, but to her credit she nails the smaller, more genuine moments. Quinton Aaron, who plays Michael, turns in, for lack of a better term, an amatuer performance. It’s clear he is new to this, and while the role doesn’t ask much of him, his quiet presence doesn’t present well next to a seasoned performer like Bullock.
Is this movie problematic? Sure, there is a “white savior” type of spin to it, but I don’t think that’s the message the film is trying to communicate at all, so for that reason, no, I don’t see it as being problematic. It’s just a story about people with means helping those without, and it’s touching. The problem I had with the film was it felt painted with very broad strokes and there’s nothing great throughout the film, just a lot of mediocrity. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind for a film like this, because I can definitely be won over by mushy, inspirational, and sentimental movies like this. But also perhaps it’s just not a very good version of the film. I wish it took some chances and tried something new and different.