John Lee Hancock's The Blind Side is that rare inspirational sports story, like Rudy or Hoosiers, which is just as cheesy as every other inspirational sports story, but somehow avoids leaving the taste of unadulterated schmaltz behind--or, at least, in the case of The Blind Side, too unpleasantly or overwhelmingly.
Very good performances by very good actors and a pretty solid script help immensely, especially star Sandra Bullock's involved and affecting turn as Leigh Anne Tuohy, which even (unlike performances like Cameron Diaz's in The Box or Bullock's own as Harper Lee in Infamous) features a pretty believable Southern accent, and Quinton Aaron's portrayal of Michael Oher, a misunderstood, almost autistic homeless child who has found himself repeatedly, inexcusably abandoned again and again.
The film is based on the real story of NFL player Michael Oher, and it feels more real than many films based on true stories. Oher was separated from his mother at a young age and spent time in foster homes, or just drifting, until a temporary guardian found him a scholarship to a Christian school.
The school is not a great fit for him at first, but it soon becomes his only home, until the intervention of Leigh Anne Tuohy and the Tuohy family provides him a stable home base from which to begin to achieve what he's fully capable of, academically and athletically.
The inclusion of Michael in the Tuohy family is portrayed believably, with humor and grace, as a true meeting of equals with respect for one another. There are a few moments when it seems almost to threaten to go over the top in terms of its manipulative emotionality, but it mostly hits the right notes and illustrates the most illuminating contrasts. In particular, the relationships between Leigh Anne and Michael and Michael and S.J. (Jae Head), the young son of the Tuohys, are credible, logical, moving and entertaining.
It's pretty refreshing to see a Christian school and a Christian family in a Hollywood movie without caricature or irony. They aren't huddled in a bunker waiting for the end times or preaching damnation or hatred, just trying to live and love well and set good examples, like most real-life Christians of whatever denomination, like most regular good people.
There are some weak points, to be sure. The opening monologue, intoned joylessly by Bullock over old football footage, is kind of a snooze, and while the information imparted is useful to understanding the story, it easily could have been made more interesting. A scene in which Leigh Anne lectures wealthy friends over her genuine concern for Michael moves the plot forward in several ways, but feels too easy.
The framing of the film's story within an NCAA investigation into Oher's choice of colleges seems slightly forced and strained, and some complications which ensue from it seem rote or too inserted. Much more about Michael's early childhood and family background is wished for. Kathy Bates seems game as Michael's tutor, but is not really given enough to do perhaps to justify hiring a talent like Kathy Bates.
So yeah, there's stuff missing. Some threads of the story which could have been complex and fit in well are not handled as thoroughly as they probably should have been. But in all, The Blind Side is a heart-warming and involving sports picture and touching family portrait with very strong performances. I suppose it's clear from what I've written that I did not want to like the movie as much as I did, going in, but I ended up liking it exactly as much as I did by the time the credits rolled.
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