Based on a true story and now available on DVD, “The Blind Side” follows the basic formula of the feel-good sports flick, but it adds some important twists that lift it somewhat above its genre. Most of the uplift is supplied by Sandra Bullock, in her Oscar-winning role of Leigh Anne Tuohy, a well-to-do Memphis wife, mother, and interior designer. Though she is forceful, acerbic, and no-nonsense in her business, she has a sympathetic, specifically Christian side.
The screenplay, written and directed by John Lee Hancock, doesn’t dwell on her religious beliefs: Leigh Ann is never seen in church, and her only prayer is a table grace. But it clearly shows her practicing what she preaches.
The story begins as a recasting of the Good Samaritan parable. Having earlier introduced us to Michael “Big Mike” Oher (Quinton Aaron), a quiet, homeless giant of a young African-American man, it brings him and the Tuohy family together. Michael has been accepted into an exclusive private school, largely for his athletic promise. His IQ is listed as 80, and his previous academic failures have resulted in a 0.6 GPA. He has never played football; however, the team’s coach, played with a self-effacing flair by Ray McKinnon, positively drools at the idea of suiting the big fella up for spring practice.
Trouble is, neither the teachers nor the coaches scratch Michael’s surface. When the Tuohys spot him walking him down the street one cold, rainy night, Leigh Ann orders her husband, Sean (Tim McGraw), to turn around. They take him to their lavish home, give him a place to sleep, and invite him for Thanksgiving dinner. In due time, he becomes one of the family.
The rest of the plot is fairly predictable, though Bullock’s comic talents serve the film well, keeping it from becoming too schmaltzy. Leigh Ann’s key discovery is that Big Mike’s biggest strengths lie in his protective instincts. As the film’s opening has established with shots of Lawrence Taylor sacking Joe Theisman and ending his career, the second-most-valuable player on a team may well be the left offensive tackle, whose job it usually is to protect a quarterback’s blind side. Leigh Ann cannily uses her knowledge to motivate Michael, eventually turning him into a prized recruit at that position for Ole Miss, from which she and Sean, not so incidentally, graduated, and to which they give large sums of money.
Their college background affords perhaps the only real crisis in the movie, though it wouldn’t be fair to reveal it here. Screenwriter Hancock doesn’t address this fully enough, perhaps, not does he satisfactorily work through the nagging questions of race and “white guilt” which the story presents. Apart from her charity towards Michael, Leigh Anne’s Christianity is chiefly demonstrated by the omnipresent (and expensive) cross pendants she wears, rather than fully worked through or substantiated.
Still, the facts are what they are, as the closing credits reinforce by showing pictures of the real Tuohy family and Michael at various stages of his high school, college, and, presently, professional careers. (Rumor has it that the Vikes wanted to take him in this year’s draft; he was drafted by the Ravens, for whom he played, um, right tackle.) “The Blind Side” is rated “PG-13” largely for language—Leigh Anne can get salty and some minor characters insert some sexual innuendo into the story—but it feels perfectly suitable for teens. Though I don’t think the movie deserves the Best Picture nomination it received—and I still like Meryl Streep’s work in “Julie and Julia” better than Bullock’s here--I’d recommend it for anyone who likes a good (and mostly true) story, fairly well acted, which shows what it means to live out your beliefs.