Based on the remarkable true story of Michael Oher, as chronicled by Michael Lewis in his nonfiction book of the same name, John Lee Hancock’s The Blind Side offers an overly familiar formula delivered with a commendably restrained amount of melodrama.
Memphis businesswoman and housewife Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) gets what she wants in life through sheer force of will. Her children attend a ritzy private school, and when the higher-ups there admit Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a disadvantaged African-American kid, because the football coach wants him to play for the school, Leigh Anne focuses all of her considerable energy on giving the boy the kind of loving and stable environment he’s never had. Eventually, he grows close to Leigh Anne, her husband (Tim McGraw), teen daughter, Collins, and cloyingly precocious young son, S.J. Michael works hard to get his grades high enough to play, develops skills as a left tackle, and starts getting letters of interest from big-time college programs. But problems arise when influences from Michael’s past come back into his life, and when the NCAA worries that the Tuohys might be unethically pushing Michael toward attending their alma mater.
The Blind Side is decidedly square. Its uplifting message and thoroughly unashamedly folksy qualities make it a feel-good, three-hanky, you-go-girl, wind-beneath-my-wings piece of sappy inspirationalism. But, it does have some persuasive things in its favor. First of all, it gets football right — those who know nothing about the game will actually learn a little about what an offensive lineman does and how he does it. Secondly, it’s not aggressive in its middlebrowness; the film — like Hancock’s previous sports movie, The Rookie — has a light touch, best exemplified in Tim McGraw’s charmingly laid-back performance as Sean Tuohy, a man unfazed and thoroughly charmed by his outspoken Type-A wife.
And let’s be clear that this is a Sandra Bullock film through and through. She’s essentially playing a less sexually brazen Erin Brockovich — a no-nonsense Southern girl who fights for what’s right, for herself and for her family. It’s not a part that requires much depth, but Bullock fills it with her usual charm, and her core audience will undoubtedly laugh and cry along as Leigh Anne stands up to coaches, gang-bangers, and administrators who stand in her and Michael’s way.
The movie is very familiar — you’ve seen it all before — but it succeeds at achieving its modest goals. It’s cinematic comfort food that could have been called “Chicken Soup for the Football Lover’s Soul.”