November 19, 2009

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The Blind Side (PG-13)
Sandra Bullock plays the steeliest of magnolias who uses her extraordinary powers of persuasion to help a poor kid from the wrong side of town in The Blind Side.

Leigh Anne Touhy (Bullock) is the most can-do of ladies — a situation not going her way is a situation that will soon change. Perhaps because of her grab-tight-and-hang-on determination, she is a successful interior decorator who lives in a fancy house in Memphis with her fast-foodfranchise-owning husband (Tim McGraw) and her accomplished kids who attend a private school. Their school just happens to be the same school that Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) is brought to by a friend’s father. Raised by a drug-addicted mother and a series of foster families, Michael — called Big Mike, a name he hates — is couch surfing when it is suggested that he use his natural athletic talent to get into a good school. Despite his lousy grades, a coach sees potential in Michael and gets him admitted. Soon Mike is a silent, confounding presence in this Christian school’s community. He’s quiet and doesn’t know how to approach the other kids despite a soft demeanor. He scores very low on tests but appears to be a strong learner. He does not exactly come home to ideal studying situations, though — after getting kicked off his friend’s sofa, he spends his nights in laundromats for warmth and picks up half-empty popcorn bags after a high school sporting event for food.

It’s in this state that he meets Leigh Anne, who picks him up and brings him to her home when she sees him walking along the side of the road. As she starts to realize his situation, she turns his one-night stay into a more permanent one, inviting him into the family photo, becoming his legal guardian and working with him to turn his natural physical abilities into a college scholarship for football. And while her friends look askance at her for bringing an African-American kid from a lousy background into her home, Leigh Anne becomes Michael’s fiercest supporter.

I know how this sounds — rich white people given the warm fuzzy treatment because they help a poor minority. Normally, this sort of thing leaves me feeling squirmy and uncomfortable — the heebie jeebies is, I believe, the official scientific name for it. That the story works at all here — and shockingly, it does — is, I think, because of how multidimensional the characters are allowed to be. There is more than football and big hair going on with Leigh Anne; there is more than feel-good stereotypes going on with Michael. He gets to be a person with feelings, abilities, resentments, frustrations. And Bullock — perhaps because she’s a mom here and not at all required to be sexy or goofy-funny — gets to play something approaching a human being as well. Her performance might sound eye-roll-worthy on paper but she sells it, gives the character life and flesh.

And something else — as with Cameron Diaz’s recent performance in The Box, Bullock’s seemed refreshingly not-kitten-ish. She’s not wacky, not playing 21, not squishing herself into a character tailored to someone 20 years ago rather than her now. Bullock is 45 and she is here wonderfully 45. It’s nice seeing women be something other than a 21-year-old babe or an 80-year-old grandmother and having that fact not be the central point of the movie.

The Blind Side is not a movie that reaches out and forces you to see it; it’s not a movie I’d be inclined to move to the top of my Netflix queue. But it is a movie I enjoyed seeing filled with characters I liked spending time with. B

Rated PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references. Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (from a book by Michael Lewis), The Blind Side is two hours and six minutes long and is distributed by Warner Bros. It opens on Friday, Nov. 20.