When is a football movie not a football movie? When it turns out to be more about people than the game.
The preview trailers and, indeed, the fi rst few minutes of The Blind Side, are loaded up with all things football. The trailers show lots of gridiron action. The opening scene shows excruciating footage of New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor accidentally ending the career of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann in a tackle gone wrong.
Then the Memphis-set story begins, unfortunately with a distracting scene that’s only there so the fi lmmakers can fl ash up a “2 years earlier” subtitle. Once rooted in that past, we’re introduced to two factions of an “opposites attract” situation: the well-to-do Tuohy family and the oversized, homeless, terribly shy high schooler Michael Oher.
Sean Tuohy (country singer Tim McGraw) is the laid-back man of the house who made a fortune in Taco Bell franchises. His wife Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock) is pushy and forward and quietly strong. There’s no doubt that good natured Sean has never won an argument or even a discussion with her, but he’s fi ne with that, and there’s lots of love between them and their two kids.
Then there’s hulking 17-yearold Michael (newcomer Quinton Aaron), who’s seen early on as a loner – roaming around, dealing with the fact that his drug-addled mom long ago gave up on him, making him a ward of the state, with no one looking out for him.
While Michael Lewis’ book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, was mostly about Michael and his rise out of his situation, the fi lm is mostly about Leigh Anne (it happens when an A-list star is the big selling point) and her plan to help out this poor fellow.
It’s after he’s allowed to attend a private Christian high school — the football coach campaigns for his acceptance, likely because he thinks this gentle giant can be shaped into some sort of athlete — that he’s befriended by Leigh Anne’s young son S.J. (a cracking good performance by Jae Head), and before you can say pass the cranberry sauce, Big Mike is invited to the Tuohy’s for Thanksgiving and, as it turns out, beyond.
This is where the film becomes the story of Leigh Anne.
There are few people who would commit such an act of kindness. There are even fewer who would do it without even consulting their family members. But here, nothing seems uncommon about it. The actors (with the exception of the excitable Head) go at it with an ease that leads to a feeling of authenticity. After a short while, it doesn’t feel at all weird that this big black kid with a blank past is fi tting right in with this ritzy white-bread family.
Much of the film’s success goes to the relaxed demeanor of Quinton Aaron who, because he’s playing a silent type, needs to get his character across mostly through body language. He slowly and almost unnoticeably shifts from slightly stooping over to standing up straight, and his few smiles say a lot more than his few words.
There’s a sadness on the edges of the story, but a soft stripe of humor runs through it. And things get raucously funny by the time of Michael’s first practice for high school football, about which he knows nothing.
The second half of the film speeds up considerably, featuring the fi rst actual football game at the 75-minute point, followed by a lot of drama surrounding Michael’s travails getting a college scholarship. In the end, writer-director John Lee Hancock tries a little too hard to make it an audience pleaser, but he succeeds, anyway.