The prologue to the warm-n-fuzzy sports story The Blind Side plays so well, it’s like seeing a team return an opening kickoff to score a touchdown. A Southern-accented Sandra Bullock narrates an insider’s perspective on the five fateful seconds that cost the Washington Redskins’ Joe Theismann his career. Michael Lewis’ book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game provides the film with tasty tidbits about football machinations on and off the field, but director John Lee Hancock fumbles the rags-to-riches story of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron).
The film’s early scenes find mountainous Michael adrift in the impoverished corners of Memphis with a crack-addicted mother and no real home. When a Christian school bends the rules to enroll him, Michael attracts the notice of Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock), the take-charge socialite wife of a fast-food mogul (Tim McGraw). Leigh Anne whisks Michael to the family McMansion and offers him clothes, a Thanksgiving invitation, and even a strategy for success on the gridiron.
The Blind Side could refer to the casting of Quinton Aaron, who at 6 foot 10 certainly looks the part of an intimidating tackle, but proves too wooden an actor to support so many scenes with minimal dialogue. The film also has the bad luck to follow behind the release of Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, in which Gabourey Sidibe conveys far deeper feelings in similar scenarios.
Many of the other actors overcompensate to make up for Aaron. To her credit, Bullock doesn’t turn Leigh Anne into a clownish exaggeration of a nouveau riche Southern busybody. Nevertheless, the film treats Leigh Anne as if she’s trying to oh-so-nobly redeem white Southerners everywhere. We can’t just like Leigh Anne; we have to practically genuflect before her. Bullock and McGraw have a charming, laid-back chemistry as unlikely civil rights pioneers, but Jae Head’s insufferable work as their “sassy” son makes you dread his every appearance.
A brisker edit would have helped The Blind Side enormously. Since the film dwells on so many minor episodes, you fear it’s going to just start screening the entirety of Michael’s life in real time. It’s nearly an hour before he even steps onto a football field. The Blind Side was shot in the Atlanta area, so it’s fun to play spot-the-local-actor, including Afemo and Elizabeth Omilami, Rhoda Griffis, James Donadio and Libby Whittemore. Ultimately, it’s like going to a game in which the shots of the spectators draw more interest than the play on the field.
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