Should we be surprised that there is now both a chick football TV series (Friday Night Lights) and a chick football flick (The Blind Side)? How many women did you see reading the two books these properties were based on?
John Lee Hancock’s adaptation of Michael Lewis’s book about the rise to greatness of Michael Oher, today a left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, tells the story from the point of view of a brassy Southern interior decorator played by Sandra Bullock.
Bullock plays the sort of no-nonsense gal you’ve seen in a hundred other movies, but she plays the role nicely, tossing off smart one-liners and football analysis with equal flair. At the outset, she is explaining to us (complete with footage of the gruesome bone-snapping Lawrence Taylor sack of Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann that ended the latter’s career in 1985) why a left tackle, who protects a right-handed quarterback’s blind side, is often the second-highest paid player on the team.
Placing this explanation at the start of the film certainly helps the non-football fan understand the stakes of the game — but it also casts a cloud over the entire story about how a wealthy Memphis family, headed by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) and her husband Sean (Tim McGraw), welcomed into their home a nearly silent, woebegone castaway from a festering Memphis housing project known as Hurt Village. In one poignant scene, the lad (played by newcomer Quinton Aaron) is in a laundry. He washes his few items of clothing in the sink then throws them into someone else’s drying cycle.
The prologue of the film seems to establish that Leigh Anne knows a lot about football. And she does. She and her husband are rabid boosters of Ole Miss. The football coach at the private Christian high school attended by their daughter arranges to get the rules bent so that young Michael, who plainly doesn’t qualify for admission, can join the student body. If all three of these adults didn’t see in Michael a potential athlete, how likely is it that they would take an interest in him? How probable is it that an upscale family would offer up a couch, and meals, and a place by the hearth for a huge, silent, unknown child of a crack-addicted mother if he didn’t have the potential to be the Ole Miss star he eventually became?
To its credit, the film doesn’t pretend these problems don’t exist. In the third act, there is a lot of discussion of the matter, which also brings to bear possible recruitment violations and even some outright lying by the tutor (Kathy Bates) hired to bring Michael up to speed academically. The Bates character, too, is an Ole Miss alum, and she gravely informs her pupil that at Ole Miss rival Tennessee, bones are stored directly under the football field. The scene is played as comedy, but in the film Oher appears to believe her.