Academy Award winner Sandra Bullock stars in The Blind Side (available on DVD and Blu-Ray March 23). Based on Michael Lewis’ 2006 book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, this movie tells the extraordinary story of Michael Oher and the woman who helped him achieve his potential, Leigh Anne Tuohy.
Michael Oher spent the first 17 years of his life in and out of foster care with different families, from which he regularly runs away. Michael is finally able to catch something of a break when the father of one of his friends, at whose house he is temporarily staying, gets him enrolled in a private Christian high school on the merits of his athletic talent.
But the real break comes when, after a Thanksgiving school festival, Leigh Anne Tuohy notices Michael walking in a short-sleeved T-shirt and shorts in the cold, shivering uncontrollably. She offers him a place to stay for the night. Realising that he has no other place to go, she asks him to stay for the entire Thanksgiving weekend. And then she asks him to stay for the week and then, well, Michael just slowly and naturally takes his place as part of the Tuohy family, with countless small gestures cementing the bond.
The entire family rallies around their newest member to help him improve his GPA and his football skills, but when Michael achieves the success he only previously could dream of – i.e. getting accepted into college with a full football scholarship – he and his new family come under investigation. The family’s integrity is questioned as an investigation accuses the Tuohys of taking Michael in only to give their preferred college an epic football player. But true love conquers all, and Michael goes to college and then goes on to become a pro football player.
The only reason I went to see The Blind Side at the movie theatre is because of Sandra Bullock, who happens to be one of my favourite actresses. Despite that and the fact that the movie was getting great reviews, I remained wary. I already knew about Michael Oher and couldn’t help but wonder what the movie adaptation would do to his story. Would it be an inspirational story that would empower all teenagers whose amazing talents are left untrained because of limiting social conditions to become shining stars despite said limitations? Or would it change Michael Oher’s story into a condescending one of a young black man being saved by a rich white family, perpetuating the “well-meaning white paternalism” that has disempowered countless individuals from striving to rise up against limiting social conditions while waiting for someone to come and ‘save’ them?
Not only did the The Blind Side manage to remain true to the story, it also managed to challenge a prejudice that bitterness – especially in view of the recent economic downturn – and hardship has helped fan into a roaring flame. What is this prejudice? Namely that rich white people are too caught up in their own affairs, too self-absorbed, and the charitable ones too self-satisfied, to touch the life of someone like Michael Oher without any other intention than to help, and without any other reason than a bond of love that developed between a family and a random stranger.
Unfortunately many remain convinced that The Blind Side is a highly romanticised and commercialised version of what actually happened. According to some, the Tuohy family certainly couldn’t have been as selfless as portrayed by Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw. But cynicism couldn’t keep millions of people from making The Blind Side a commercially successful movie. It opened on November 20, 2009 and grossed $34.5 million in its first weekend and grossed $200 million by January, 2010. Not bad at all.
Perhaps we are not as cynical as we would like others to think we are. I’m extremely curious to see if this contradiction will continue, and how good the DVD sales will be. And those sales are going to be solely dependent on the strength of audiences’ desire to watch the movie, as there are almost no extra features. The DVD comes only with a couple of deleted scenes that explain some of what we had to infer while watching the movie in the theatre. For example, we figure out why Mike didn’t have a place to stay on that fateful night the Tuohys drove by him and ended up taking him to their house. We see how his biology teacher, concerned for him, took him to another room to take his test and figured out how Mike knew his material, although he wasn’t completing his tests.
Quinton Aaron’s portrayal of Michael Oher is touching and made me want to reach into the screen to hug him. His interactions with the other actors make the film all the more realistic, as it becomes easy to believe him as being part of the family, especially when it comes to his interactions with Jae Head, who portrays SJ Tuohy.
An indirect yet important social commentary is given in the form of one specific character, Miss Sue. Portrayed by Kathy Bates, Miss Sue is hired by the Tuohys to tutor Michael when it becomes clear that his GPA won’t be good enough for him to play football. Under the guidance of Miss Sue, as well as with the special considerations given to Michael by his teachers (namely, to take his tests orally), Michael is able to overcome years of neglect and have his inherent intellect honed, making one wonder how many other teenagers in Michael’s position won’t have the same opportunity.
It would have been lovely to have interviews with Michael Oher and his family as a special feature, if only to address the veracity of the above mentioned selflessness. Then again, perhaps it’s because the family doesn’t want to further commercialise itself, which in itself says something about them.
The story of Michael Oher and Leigh Anne Tuohy reminds me of a great quote: “Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor, lest heedlessness lead them into the path of destruction, and deprive them of the Tree of Wealth. To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues.” The Tuohys’ easy acceptance of Michael Oher, the fact that they so naturally saw him as part of the family and the fact that Michael didn’t question his place there makes this family the embodiment of this quote. And it seems that Leigh Anne Tuohy understood very well that whatever they were doing to help Michael, he was helping them even more, by changing their lives for the best:
Leigh Anne’s friend: “You’re changing the boy’s life.
Leigh Anne: “No. He’s changing mine.”
Perhaps this is why The Blind Side did so well at the box office, and perhaps this is why it is going to do just as well in DVD sales.
First published here on Blogcritics.