THE BLIND SIDE takes what in lesser hands would have been a prime example of the hopelessly hackneyed and saccharine sub-genre of holiday feel-good flick, sports division, and, instead, makes of this uplifting true story a refreshingly sober film that brings good and surprisingly wholesome good cheer.
The true story is of how Michael Oher was saved from a life as one of societys throwaway kids. Abandoned by both parents, and failed by the foster care system tasked with his care, he was literally taken off the street one night by a woman, Leigh Anne Tuohy, who chose not to look away. As a result of being welcomed into her home and her family, he fulfilled his potential and became a professional football player. The film, whose job it is to run through the requisite rounds of how this all comes to pass finds a new twist. Michael, though having endured years of abuse and neglect, is neither psychologically damaged, aside from some trust issues, nor is he violent, unless called upon to protect those he loves. He does, however, have difficulty with basic social interaction, and having been passed along through a school system that didnt care, he never learned how to learn, in the conventional sense. In many ways, this would seem like a story too simple, too easy, to tell, but a well-tempered script and terrific performances make this a memorable, and, yes, heart-warming experience.
Sandra Bullock gives a fine performance as Leigh Anne, a wealthy socialite who knows how to run a decorating business without being take for a ride, how to pull off a tight skirt after two kids, one of whom is in high school, and who has an unswerving sense of right and wrong that until now has never been put to the test in any meaningful way. She may not cook, a fact her family accepts with a grateful thank you to her for picking up Thanksgiving dinner from a vendor of same, but when she sees Michael walking alone wearing only a t-shirt and shorts on a freezing night, she does the right thing, without pausing so much for the time it would take to bat even one of her false eyelashes. Its a move that raises the perfectly shaped eyebrows of her ladies-who-lunch friends, and certainly garners attention from her kids friends at school, but its also one that doesnt disrupt Leannes family, it makes them, husband Sean (Tim McGraw) and kids popular cheerleader Collins (Lily Collins) and plucky wheeler-dealer SJ (Jae Head), better people, not in the ostentatious way that a manipulative film would demonstrate, but with a straightforward sense of doing the right thing because there is simply no other option. It also opens Leigh Annes eyes, to the part of Memphis shes never seen, and a side of her friends that has also previously gone unnoticed.
Quinton Aaron as Michael has the harder role, playing a character who barely speaks, and, despite the physique of a small mountain, tries to disappear into his surroundings. He lumbers, but is obviously alert, speaks slowly, but with the deliberation of wanting to say the right thing after a lifetime of not being heard. When left alone for the first time in Leigh Ann’s house, he sees a book with a Norman Rockwell painting and the look on his face shows both the alien nature of the scene depicted, and the primal yearning for a life like it. He also makes Michael’s innate sweetness and gentleness a genuine strength. Michaels unselfconscious admission that he’s never had a bed before shows only a quiet happiness without a trace of bitterness. Bullock’s response, shock and pity, are quickly succeeded by a matter-of-fact assertion that he has one now. Thats the best thing about Bullock’s performance. While Leigh Anne never offers Michael pity, only the same unconditional love and push to be the best they can be that she gives her biological kids, there is never a doubt that this womans heart is breaking in a way that makes her all the more determined to save Michael. Bullock also has the grit to pull it off, whether fighting government bureaucracy, or mouthing off to men bigger than she is who are getting in her way.
THE BLIND SIDE is irresistible. Sure, there are the inevitable mentions of the fast food with which Leigh Anne’s husband is associated. Sure, the teaching staff at the Christian academy where Michael is sent to save the athletic program, first dismiss Michaels potential and then come around. Sure, there is little if any doubt that Michael will overcome his obstacles. Its the deft, simple manner in which the story is told that brings it all together into a feel-good movie that rises above its inherent clichés.