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.
It’s a shame, then, that The Blind Side is not the story of a kid with no prospects who managed to make it to the top, but rather an epic of self-congratulation about a white family that essentially made Michael their pet. In a high school football scene, Michael can’t quite figure out what an offensive tackle is supposed to do — until Leigh Anne marches in, swats the coach aside (what coach would allow this?), and briskly explains to Michael that he should pretend the quarterback is — she! Michael would never let anything bad happen to her, would he? He would stop anybody who tried to put a hand on her, right? Well, then: He should just treat the quarterback like his new adoptive mommy. From that moment on, Michael becomes an outstanding football player. But the scene induces cringes. Can Michael have really been so obtuse as not to understand that his job was to protect the quarterback?
The film contains several oddly off-kilter little jabs at conservatives. For instance, Sean Tuouhy, played by Tim McGraw, says it’s odd that his family should have a black son before ever meeting a Democrat, a line seemingly written by the kind of liberal who imagines that Southerners are as cloistered and isolated from opposing viewpoints as residents of Beverly Hills.
In another scene, set at one of those dreary government offices where bored civil servants provide occasional slow-motion service to frustrated citizens, Leigh Anne demands to know who is in charge. The clerk points, in a non-sequitur nonpareil, to a portrait of then-president George W. Bush. No doubt the lines at government offices are now moving as quickly as the ones at McDonald’s. After all, there’s a dynamic liberal in the White House.
Can it be that The Blind Side is overcompensating a bit, making references to the Tuohys being Republicans and razzing Bush, because it is so thoroughly a liberal fantasy? Isn’t the way the Tuohys treat Oher — as their hapless, grateful, willing little saint who does what he’s told instead of a flawed, complex human being with personality and opinions and decisions all his own — the quintessence of how wealthy liberals see poor blacks?