Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rose-coloured reviews *The Blind Side*

So Fred posted Sandra Bullock's Oscar acceptance speech. I started out reading the transcript, then partway through I wanted to see her delivery so I switched to the YouTube clip, then I went to CinemaClock Toronto and, as soon as was possible, went pretty much directly to the movie theatre. It's a really good speech.

And The Blind Side is a *pretty* good movie. Not, like, amazing or anything, but for a sweet, funny, no-hard-questions-no-hard-answers film, which I am sure was exactly what the makers set out for, this was a great success.

In truth, I knew as soon as I saw the first trailer last year that I would like this movie--I am a sucker for sweet, funny, no-hard-questions-no-hard-answers films. I held out as long as I could.

In case anyone on planet earth doesn't know this, The Blind Side is about a poor black teenager named Michael, who was taken from his drug-addicted mom at a young age, who has run away from every foster home he was ever in, and is about to wear out his welcome on the friend's couch he currently occupies.

The friend, Big Tony, offers one last favour--when he takes his own son to a ritzy Christian private school to plead for the boy's admission, he takes Michael too, and mentions in passing the boy's troubles. Both are admitted to the school and become, apparently, the only black kids there, although bizarrely, we never see Big Tony's son (or Big Tony) again. Whatever happened to that kid? And, while I'm at it, who paid *either* boy's tuition (Big Tony is a mechanic and unlikely to afford one, let alone two, years at such a place).

Ok, unlikely beginnings out of the way, Michael catches the interest of a kindhearted motormouthed student, SJ Tuohy (oh my goodness, that kid is cute, but only in a movie way. A real kid who talked that much would have to be periodically locked in a cupboard). When the family is driving home late one night, they see Michael walking alone in the cold, and SJ's mom Leigh Ann (Ms. Bullock) stops and demands to know the situation. When it becomes clear that Michael doesn't really have a situation--walking alone in the cold is pretty much the size of things--Bullock and husband (played by Tim McGraw, who I always thought was a singer, but does a fine job here) take the boy home.

He never leaves, and although he's silent and awkward and seemingly often quite miserable, he accedes to Bullock's demands that he accept new clothes from her, to his teachers' demands that he learn something at school, and eventually to the football coach's demands that he learn to be a tough, quick, aggressive player.

I'm a little disturbed that the movie presents Michael as basically devoid of volition, or even survival instinct (before Leigh Ann lectures him, he is content to get pummelled on the playing field). Michael Lewis's book, on which the film was based, is rumoured to give Michael a little more credit for his own success, but since I haven't read it, I can't hazard a further guess.

But it doesn't matter that the film's Michael has almost no agency, because the Tuohys are *so* nice that anything they would want for Michael is going to be the best thing possible. That sounds like hyperbole, and in real life it would be, but in the movies, people can any way we want them to, and sometimes, it's nice to see people who are 100% kind and generous, 100% of the time. It's how I'd be if I could, and since I can't, nice of Sandra Bullock to do it for me.

These actors are talented, and they make the supermoral Tuohy family as convincing as possible. I liked even the daughter, Collins, who had almost no lines but delivered all that she had with beautiful simplicity. I liked the conversation she has with her mom about whether having Michael in the house makes her uncomfortable. She admits that kids at school give her a hard time, but insists, several times, that it doesn't matter.

That's the right point of view, just a hard one to take, especially when you are 17. And we never *see* the kids teasing her--we only see her firm decision to rise above. I suspect part of the reason people (myself included) love this movie is that it makes it seem easy to be good—everything hard (including almost all of Michael's miserable childhood) happens off screen.

Let us not forget that this film is highly Conservative (I think I'm using that big C correctly, right?) The social workers, the public school system, public housing and drug rehabilitation programs, all have failed Michael. The only solution to society's ills--bad schools, dangerous neighbourhoods, drugs, poverty, racism, and violence, to name a few--is for very rich people to take it upon themselves to solve them, one sweetly innocent and earnest teenaged victim at a time.

You know what? I'll stop with the cynicism now, because this is (more or less) a true story, so some people actually did actually did do the things that happen in *The Blind Side* and they must be extraordinary, and certainly inspiring. I just think maybe we should extrapolate much from people who are extraordinary or, indeed, people who own a dozen Taco Bell franchises.

There is a montage a little past the midway point, depicting the summer Michael spends training to be on the school football team. SJ resolves to help him, and there is shot after shot of the tiny white boy and the enormous black boy romping in this perfect field of green. Lovingly shot and lovingly performed, it's a whack of fun.

The only places this film falls apart is exactly where you'd want it too--the usual third-act turn-for-the worse (a car accident, a bit of violence, a weird intervention from some sort of college football organization) are so forced and weirdly foreshadowed as to be utterly implausible. The gangsters and the snarky investigators are the only bad actors in the thing--it's like the casting director said, "Well, we don't want anyone too convincing, or the audience will get upset."

I liked this movie, and many others, because I never had to be upset--only happy and getting happier, until the very happy ending. If you don't like such Hollywood uplift, you won't like this movie--but if you do, it's one of the best of its kind.


PS--To the two women in their thirties who sat in front of me and to the right, talking throughout the film as if in their own living room and repeating the good lines aloud in case anyone missed them: you are everything that is wrong with modern society. May you be splashed by buses in the rain, and find hair baked into your pizza long after the deliveryperson has gone.


Anonymous said...

I fear for the next person who buds ahead of you in a Metro line. Personally, I think you're evolving.

AMT said...

next time, i invite you to bake their OWN hair into a pizza you have brought with you to the theatre for this precise purpose.

revenge is a dish best served piping hot, out of nowhere, immediately, with cheese.

The Chapati Kid said...

Short and curly hairs. And make them eat it.