Thursday, June 17, 2010


You know what happens when you assume

By Edward Copeland
However long it's been since the 2009 Oscar nominations were announced and the awards actually presented, I've finally seen the 10th of the 10 best picture nominees (or, at any rate, the one title I'd yet to see, The Blind Side). Admittedly, my enthusiasm for seeing the movie was not high, based on clips that seemed to me that I'd be in store for a cloying, saccharine tale and a shaky, Southern accent from star Sandra Bullock. How very wrong I was.

Don't get me wrong: The Blind Side is not an undervalued masterpiece that defies formula, but it is surprisingly well-made and effective and doesn't hit its audience over the head with its message of good. While there has been much reporting of the liberties taken in this true story from the book by Michael Lewis, it's to writer-director John Lee Hancock's credit that he didn't try to shape the material into nauseating feel-good hokum. Admittedly, sometimes he does downplay aspects of the story a bit much (such as the inherent racism of well-off Memphis society and the idea that the Tuohy family might be just as interested in helping their alma mater's football team as they are in giving a downtrodden youth a better life).

Bullock does a fine job as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the well-off Memphis woman who takes in the homeless, hard-knock-life Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) and gives him a family, an education and a route to the NFL. Would I have given Bullock the Oscar? No, I'd have voted for Carey Mulligan for An Education, but her win is hardly an embarrassment, especially in comparison to winners past, and my fears of another poor attempt at an accent based on the clips proved to be unfounded.

Bullock doesn't stand alone in the film. She's ably supported by fine work from Kathy Bates as a tutor, Ray McKinnon as the private school football coach who paves Mike's way into the school, Kim Dickens (Treme, Deadwood) as one of the teachers who believes in him and even country singer Tim McGraw as Bullock's husband.

Where the film does come close to making missteps is its portrayal of Oher as a quiet, gentle giant, so traumatized by his past that he barely speaks and has to be taught to smile. I imagine if The Blind Side had caught me in the wrong mood (and I bet it did catch many in the wrong mood), the portrayal of Oher would prove grating and borderline insulting after awhile. It could easily teeter into the realm of the offensive, giving Aaron little help in the way of making Oher a real person instead of a caricature. If he didn't play football and instead could heal with his touch and lived behind bars, at times you'd think he escaped from The Green Mile.

I find myself without much more to say about the film. If pushed for a one-word feeling to describe my immediate reaction after seeing it, it would be relief. I feared The Blind Side was going to be the type of film that works on me like nails on a chalkboard and it walks precariously on that tightrope, but it navigates from one pole to the other with real balancing skill and avoids the plunge to the arena mat below.

There certainly were worse films nominated for best picture in 2009 and if you care to see how I would have ranked their 10, as Oscar voters had to do under their new idiotic system, click here and go to the very end.

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I agree that The Blind Side is not a terrible film, and that Ms. Bullock's Oscar win is by no means an embarrassment to rank alongside some of the horrors of the past decade (Marion Cotillard, tis of thee I speak). It just seemed to me to be so formulaic in every respect that, at a certain point, it defaulted on its credibility (and lost my interest in the process). Now, the vast majority of films that I love are formulaic to some degree - but if you're going to travel well-tread ground, you need interesting writing and direction, and something - even if it's only one blessed thing - that feels distinctive in some way (Erin Brockovich had Julia Roberts doing something that felt original, smart dialogue and some fine, idiosyncratic touches by Soderbergh - and that's why it didn't feel like Norma Rae redux). Everything about The Blind Side is generic - it has no directorial perspective at all, and the script is the definition of average; it IS a Lifetime Movie-of-the-Week. It's so generic that it really does cease to be believable - you don't forget you're watching actors playing roles, because there's absolutely nothing specific about what they're doing.

About Bullock. She's fine - and nothing more than that. As I've said to you previously, I think she would have been eminently deserving of an Emmy nomination for this performance. The Oscar nomination was generous, and the win entirely unwarranted. She deserves a pat on the back for turning in a decent, professional performance; but unremarkable proficiency, on the level of adequacy, should not be equated with excellence. Bad Academy...Bad!
Josh, I could not agree more with your assessment (though, incidentally, I have no opinion myself on Cotillard or 'Norma Rae' because I'm yet to see them) - Formulaic and generic are the right words, and I would also add 'simplistic' and 'dull'... black characters are depicted as either vicious thugs, timid saints or helpless junkies, with no attempt at depth or complexity; the exposition near the beginning where the teacher reads a discarded letter written by Michael felt totally clunky and phony; the film's method of injecting 'interesting drama' into the story is to stage an idiotic car crash - and the youngest son was SO irritating (when I was presumably meant to find him endearing), no more so than in that STUPIDSTUPIDSTUPID montage of college staff 'negotiating' with the kid, all in the same cringingly phony manner...On the plus side? Well, the young woman who played the daughter (who turned out to be Phil Collins' daughter in real life) was very attractive and lit up the screen a little brighter whenever she appeared...but I still wholeheartedly agreed with your spot-on review (as well as those of the hosts of the US version of At the Movies: SKIP IT!)
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