‘The Blind Side’

On The Aisle

By Tony Macklin

One of the meanings of the title “The Blind Side” is that in football, the left tackle defends the quarterback’s blind side from the defensive linemen he doesn’t see. But in the movie, truth is sacked and authenticity is fumbled all in the name of cheerleading.

When my son was point guard on his high school basketball team, a multitude of parents would come to see their yuppie kids on the cheerleading squad perform. Then they would leave before the game. “The Blind Side” is for them.

“The Blind Side” is guilty of myriad penalties and misplays. They’re a result of a director/writer who goes for an easy score. But there’s no unnecessary roughness; there isn’t even any necessary roughness.

On one level it works. On CinemaScore, which registers opening night audience response, the audience gave it an A+. On another more important level, truth and humanity, it fails. Screenwriters and directors of sports movies seldom trust the truth. They hoke up meaningful stories such as “We Are Marshall” and “Friday Night Lights” to get facile, unquestioned, reflexive responses from their audience.

“The Blind Side” is an example of how some critics differ from most audiences. Audiences love movies, but critics are in love with movies. For most audiences, movies are a one-night stand; for critics, movies are a lasting relationship.

“The Blind Side,” sloppily based on Michael Lewis’ nonfiction book, is the story of Michael Oher (Big Mike), an African-American from the projects of Memphis, whom a wealthy white family, the Tuohys, takes in.

The Tuohy family is Leigh Anne, Sean, their daughter Collins and little son S.J. Because of Leigh Anne’s willpower, Big Mike goes to private school, excels playing football and goes on to play at the University of Mississippi. He was drafted into the NFL and starts as left tackle on the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s an uplifting story, but in the movie it’s a story of black and white told through shades of pink. It’s all pastels. Oher has found fault with the book, and especially how the movie portrays him as a young man.

My reservations are larger. I certainly don’t insist on being literal, but when a film changes reality just to soften it and make it as palatable as pabulum, I resist. Especially when it discards integrity.

“The Blind Side” begins with some authenticity — Leigh Anne’s voice-over explaining the importance of the left tackle, as footage on the screen shows Redskins’ quarterback Joe Theismann’s shocking career-ending injury. But the authenticity begins and ends there. About halfway through, the movie becomes a cartoon. Baby Huey Meets Auntie Mame.

One of the biggest misconceptions about movies is that a film based on actuality is true. It seldom is. These movies usually avoid any truth that might unsettle the feel-good vibe.

In the movie, Oher’s mother is a crack cocaine addict, but a nice one. In actuality he was one of 13 children, but in the movie he only has one brother. It’s a telling metaphor. In the movie about 11/13’s of reality is cut out.

“The Blind Side” is relentlessly feel-good. Even the bigots, like Leigh Anne’s wealthy tablemates at a restaurant, are nice. A little uppity, but nice. Don’t worry, Leigh Anne verbally smacks them down.

Leigh Anne also silences a redneck at a game. And she insults a drug dealer on his turf. She threatens him, “I’m a member of the NRA, and I’m always packing.” At this point in any real world, she’d be packing a cap in her skull.

In a vapid gesture to authenticity, Hancock casts actual coaches: Saban, Orgeron, Holtz, Tuberville, Fullmer and Nutt. Ironically Tuberville and Fullmer have been forced out of their respective coaching jobs. Nutt has gone on from Arkansas to Ole Miss. Nutt now may realize that a left tackle, though valuable, is not as valuable as an accurate quarterback, which he doesn’t have. But in the world of Hancock and Nutt, accuracy may not be a priority.

The cast is servicable. Sandra Bullock is believably absurd as Leigh Anne. Tim McGraw, as Leigh Anne’s husband, plays wallpaper convincingly. Quinton Aaron is properly hulking and sympathetic as the fabled Oher.

Jae Head plays the terribly precocious younger brother. Who thought a young kid could mug so shamelessly and so much? The scenes between him and the various coaches are absolute schlock.

Hancock can’t resist cliches. There is a scene where Collins Tuohy (Lily Collins) leaves a table of girlfriends in the high school cafeteria and sits with Oher. That hasn’t been done before.

In the excellent sports movie “The Rookie,” Hancock avoided most of the pandering pitfalls, but in “The Blind Side” he embraces them.

In “The Blind Side,” Hancock is captain of Team Platitude. “The Blind Side” is not true. It contrives, it bleaches, it sweetens, it dehumanizes. “The Blind Side” is a crowd-pleasing white wash. Let the cash register ring.

Categories: Entertainment