Inspirational sports films can be fun. Sports films in general usually emphasize that aspect. When the two are combined it makes for an even greater time at the movies. While sports will never be my all-time favorite film genre, I don’t mind them at all. Give me either a group of underdogs to root for or a good life story and so long as I’m entertained, most of this genre’s clichés can be overlooked.
But what happens when the driving force of your film is a huge black hole of fun every time she pops up onscreen? Such is the case in The Blind Side which features Oscar’s most atrocious Best Actress Nominee this year — Sandra Bullock. Here is someone who has never been nominated for an Academy Award, never has given a performance worthy of such acclaim, and yet even here gives a portrayal of what wound up to be one of the worst female characters in feel-good history.
Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) may be a great person in real life, but as she’s been written and portrayed by Bullock in this film, I don’t know why anyone would want to make a movie about her. Maybe that’s why director John Lee Hancock (who also scripted, based on the novel by Michael Lewis) couldn’t make up his mind on which character he wanted to focus on. While the true stories have to be shown side-by-side as you could never have one without the other, Michael Oher’s (Quinton Aaron) side of things are far more interesting than Leigh Anne’s.
Leigh Anne Tuohy seems to have it all. Her daughter Collins (Phil Collins’ real-life daughter, Lily Collins) is on the cheerleading squad and her son S.J. (the hilarious Jae Head) just wants to be the center of attention no matter what the circumstances. Leigh Anne’s husband Sean (country mega-star Tim McGraw) owns a bunch of fast food chains to supply Leigh Anne with the money she needs to live in their luxurious mansion of a house and drive to restaurants in her BMW to have $18 salads hanging out on the right side of town with her debutante ball reject friends in Memphis, Tennessee.
Michael Oher, on the other hand, comes from a broken home. We see this in flashbacks and awkward, heartbreaking run-ins with his brother, and he’s just been told his father died as a John Doe. He lives in Hurt Village, sneaks his laundry in with strangers’ at the local coin-ops, collects leftover popcorn at girls volleyball games, and doesn’t even have a license, making sure the Tuohys see him walking a lonely country road in the freezing cold without a jacket. Yes, the heartstrings are being pulled overtime which is fine considering Oher is played with huge sympathy by Aaron.
Leigh Anne decides that the family is taking him in and in a whirlwind she cleans Michael up, buys him new clothes, and drives him to school with her own kids every morning after he wakes up from sleeping on her $10,000 couch in the living room. After the family is told that if Michael gets his grades up he can try out for spring football, they even hire him a tutor, Miss Sue (the ever dependable Kathy Bates).
With Miss Sue’s help and S.J.’s overbearing but always hilarious form of mentoring, Michael’s grades get to where they need to be and he’s allowed to play football where everyone slowly learns that he’s the next big thing. Soon enough, coaches from several major universities come calling, trying to offer their best not just to Michael but to S.J. as well who seems to know a thing or two about negotiations. But is all this for Michael’s greater good or is it all just too good to be true and is more about providing Leigh Anne her latest feel-good project?
For everyone else in the Tuohy residence we’re allowed enough human characterization to buy that they are doing all of this out of the goodness of their hearts. But as depicted by Bullock, you never once buy into Leigh Anne not having a greater agenda. Giving her lines where she calls Michael “a fly in a milkshake” just comes off as offensive and even racist. If she’s doing these things from the bottom of her heart, you could mine for coal in that big ol’ hole.
At one point, Leigh Anne asks her husband, “Am I good person?” As far as this film goes, I wanted to talk back to the screen and say, “No, no you’re not!” But all of this has nothing to do with Leigh Anne in real life so much as her horrific depiction brought to life by Bullock. The only moral I managed to get out of this story is that over-privileged, rich bitches have hearts too.
Everything in this film works except for Bullock. Had the film either focused solely on Michael and his real-life ordeals or had director Hancock simply turned most of the film into the “Oher and S.J. Show,” that would have been fine too. But forcing Bullock’s performance to the forefront simply ruins everything. Had the Academy not upped their Best Picture category to ten nominees this year it wouldn’t stand a chance for so much as a nomination either. It is undeserving but not more so than Bullock herself. Way to go Oscar, better luck next year.
Photo courtesy Warner Bros.