Watching 'The Blind Side'
Every Oscar season there’s at least one movie I’m totally opposed to seeing, and fervently hope and pray doesn’t garner any major nominations. Last year it was “The Changeling,” with Angelina Jolie; the year before that it was “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” This year, the honor goes to “The Blind Side.”
I did not want to see this movie. When I saw the preview, I thought it was a joke. But not everyone felt that way. “I want to see this,” my friend whispered. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said. Then the nominations came out, and “The Blind Side” received two big nominations: best picture and best actress. I contacted my friend. “If you’re still interested in seeing that stupid movie, I’m going this week,” I said. At the same time, I began to wonder if I was being a tad unfair. I hadn’t seen the film, and yet I hated it. I tried to push my negative thoughts aside, and just watch the movie with an open mind.
“The Blind Side” is based on a true story, but I objected to its premise. The film charts the remarkable journey of Michael Oher, who spent time in foster homes and experienced periods of homelessness before being taken in by a wealthy Memphis couple, the Tuohys, and becoming a football star. (Oher is now a starting offensive tackle with the Baltimore Ravens.) But instead of telling the film through Oher’s eyes, “The Blind Side” focuses on Leigh Ann Tuohy, and how adopting Oher makes her a better person. To me, the focus on Leigh Ann seemed misplaced — yet another example of a big Hollywood film building a story about race and prejudice around a saintly white character, as if to reassure white audiences that the movie is really for them. When a friend tells Leigh Ann that she’s “changing that boy’s life,” I knew exactly what she was going to say in response, and I was tempted to stand up in the middle of the theater and say it with her. “No, he’s changing mine.”
OK, so dialogue like that drives me crazy. And “The Blind Side” is full of dialogue like that, which makes it all the more amazing that I didn’t hate the film. “The Blind Side” actually manages a curious feat. It’s absorbing and entertaining, without actually being a very good movie. Oher’s story is an interesting one, and Leigh Ann is an interesting character. The approach to the material might be ham-fisted and cliched, but the story at the heart of the film is always compelling. A big part of the reason for this is the presence of Sandra Bullock, who makes Leigh Ann into a sympathetic and credible character, even when she’s doing and saying things that are totally ridiculous. For instance: “The Blind Side” would have us believe that Oher didn’t know a thing about football, and was incapable of stopping people twice his size, until Tuohy interrupted practice one day and gave him a rousing speech about how the football team is his family, and he has to protect them. Uh, huh. Right. Every single thing about that scene rings totally false, and insults the intelligence of the viewer. I wanted some insight into how Oher really learned the game of football, and “The Blind Side” doesn’t offer any. Oher, as played by newcomer Quinton Aaron, is a gentle giant who wouldn’t hurt a fly.
“The Blind Side’s” most entertaining section shows Oher navigating the college recruitment process; Southeastern Conference football coaches Phil Fulmer, Lou Holtz, Tommy Tuberville, Nick Saban, Houston Nutt and Ed Orgeron ably play themselves. Of course, the film plays these scenes for comedy, gliding over the very real issue of whether the recruitment process exploits young, often impoverished athletes desperate to fulfill their dream of playing professional sports. When Oher’s tutor, an Ole Miss alum, tells him a horror story about how there are dead bodies buried under the field at the University of Tennessee, it’s meant to be funny, as is a scene where Leigh Anne tells Orgeron, the Ole Miss coach, what the other schools have promised Oher. Oher does pick Ole Miss, the Tuohy’s alma mater, which results in an investigation by the NCAA — the organization suspected the Tuohys adopted Oher in order to get him to play for their favorite college. Rather than actually explore the complexities of the case, “The Blind Side” uses the investigation to provide the film with a little bit of dramatic tension; Oher questions whether the Tuohys love him, and the Tuohys question whether they allowed Oher to make his own choice. This leads to a heartwarming/nauseating scene where Oher tells the recruiter he wants to go to Ole Miss because that’s where his family goes.
Anyway, it’s all very inspirational and rousing, and if you like that kind of thing, maybe you’ll like this movie. But there are far better, harder-hitting sports movies out there, and I recommend watching one of them. Here are a few:
1. “Hoop Dreams” — One of the best documentaries ever, about two inner-city teenagers pursuing their dream of playing professional basketball
2. “Hoosiers” — Basketball in small-town Indiana
3. “Miracle” — The true-story of the 1980 men’s Olympic hockey team and their shocking victory; Kurt Russell is excellent as the coach
4. “Sugar” — The story of a young Dominican ballplayer and his stint in the minor leagues
5. “On The Ropes” —A moving documentary about three young boxers who are determined to make a better life for themselves
6. “The Heart of the Game” — Sort of a female “Hoop Dreams,” this documentary follows a girls’ basketball team in suburban Seattle, and what happens when their best player gets pregnant
7. “The Greatest Game Ever Played” — Amateur golfer Francis Ouimet beats defending British champ Henry Vardon at the 1913 U.S. Open
8. “North Dallas Forty” — A gritty look at professional football, starring Nick Nolte
9. “Friday Night Lights” — I’ve never seen the TV show, which is supposedly excellent. But the movie’s pretty good, too.
10. “Glory Road” — A fun look at the first NCAA basketball team to feature five black players as its starting five
HONORABLE MENTION: “Dodgeball” — One of the funniest movies ever
BEAT ME AT MY OWN GAME
Every year I try to watch as many Oscar films as I can, and predict who will win. This year the Gazette is sponsoring an Oscar contest in which you, the readers, can try to outguess me. Contest details and ballots are available on the Gazette Web site by clicking here. My picks will be up March 4; the deadline for entering is March 3. The grand prize: two tickets to Bow Tie Cinemas in Schenectady, and a $50 gift certificate to a Schenectady restaurant of your choice.
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