25 November 2009

The Blind Side

5 second review: Feel good film, but not deep.

30 second review: Homeless black teenager gets into a private school because he's athletic and is adopted by a rich white family which finds him wandering the street after school.

In depth: This is based upon a true story, but you get the feeling it was loosely based (See RD version & NYTimes). Once upon a time this would have been an after school special and now it's the kind of fare you'd expect to find on Lifetime. The only thing which raises it above this level is the performances of the actors and Sandra Bullock. The story would have been much edgier, and probably better, if it had been presented from the black kid's point of view. Instead it switches back and forth between a 3d party point of view to the white mother's.

The first part of the movie shows how Michael Oher gets into a private, Christian school almost by accident. The only reason he even gets to the school is because he is spending nights at the house of a family whose father promised his mother that he would send her grandson into a Christian school. Oher is just brought along and it's made pretty clear that he gets in, despite not being even slightly academically qualified, because he is extremely large and athletically gifted.

Then we are shown how Oher is living on the street, even as he goes to this rich, private school. It's not exactly subtle. We see him gathering popcorn after a basketball game to eat and washing his single extra t-shirt in a 24 hour laundromat (and sneaking his shirt in with someone else's dryer). We also see that one teacher taking interest in him and discovering that he's not dumb, he's just never been taught.

Next we see the mother of the Tuohy family taking him in and the family, pushed by mama, rallying around him and pushing him forward so that he can play football and develop learning skills in order to raise his grades and allow him to go to college on a football scholarship. There are scenes in here which deal with issues such as trusting someone from the poor side of town to live in your house, worrying about that the relationship between Michael and Collins (the Tuohy's daughter of approximately the same age), and Mrs. Tuohy dealing with friends who can't understand how she can have a black kid living at her house. However, all of these are fairly short; there's no in depth treatment of any of them.

Finally, there's a conflict at the end when the NCAA basically accuses the Tuohy's of taking Michael in just so they could channel him toward their beloved alma mater Ole Miss. There's no doubt that they pushed him in that direction, and it starts some trouble and soul searching. Nevertheless, in the end everybody is happy and all is happy as we are treated to the touching scene of the Tuohy's dropping Michael Oher off at Ole Miss.

The movie glosses over some things (such as "the great Mormon grade grab" - blame the NYT for that characterization, not me), and switches others around (Mrs. Tuohy didn't come out of the stands to help Michael learn to play, she came out to help the coaches when Michael wouldn't let them look at an injury), but it generally seems to be true to what Michael Lewis wrote in his article and book about Oher. There are two things which stand out as different. First, Mr. Tuohy is downplayed in the movie. He plays a role, but it seems less vital than that reflected in the writing. Second, Michael Oher is basically treated as though he is dumb (cannot speak). The articles seem to indicate that he was reluctant to speak about things that were embarrassing or painful, but that he was talkative at other times - particularly in his senior year. I don't know who chose to make Michael Oher have the personality of a quiet 2 yer old, but I suspect he is doing Oher a disservice.

I'm not sure that this movie makes it onto the screen if it had been about a rich white family taking in a homeless white kid from the trailer park or an affluent black family taking in a black kid and channeling him to Morehouse. Let's face it, we all know the hook is that this is a "we can all get along", kumbaya film. As such it does a good job. It could have avoided a lot of the criticisms and complaints which will be made abut it if it had been about people all with the same skin color, but then it wouldn't be true. (or at least as true as Hollywood ever gets).

Best line: Who knew we'd have a black son before we had a Democrat for a friend?

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