The Blind Side
d. John Lee Hancock / USA / 2009 / 129 mins
Viewed at: Screen 4 @ Vue (Norwich, UK)
After years of studying film, of watching and appreciating the ‘right’ films, something tells me that any sense of credibility should dictate that I write a scathing review of The Blind Side, attacking with mocking derision its patent condescension (in its perpetuation of the notion that the only way for a black American male to escape the ‘projects’ is for him to be adopted by a rich white family and take up sports), to decry its hokey, over-sentimentalised sense of melodrama, to lambast it for essentially being the first Lifetime Telemovie to win an Academy Award. But you know what? I aint.
Maybe tiredness and an empty stomach overpowered me when I saw this blatant piece of claptrap, leaving my usual psuedo-cynical critical faculties weak, but I simply don’t have anything particularly nasty to say about this film (which is – if you already happen to know my rather low opinion of Sandra Bullock – probably saying something!)
It’s almost ipso facto by now (given the number of column inches devoted to the idea), but The Blind Side really does feel like something of a companion piece to another 2009 film, Precious. I’m not going to rehash the many obvious reasons why the films are similar, but I am interested in what makes them different.
Even with its fantasy sequences, Lee Daniels’ film feels raw, honest and naturalistic (almost to a fault), whilst The Blind Side is – in some senses – just too glossy. Both films expose, to a greater or lesser degree, some of the myths about how young black men and women escape their predicaments, but whilst the young woman at the centre of Precious seems intent on self-betterment, there is a real sense that The Blind Side falls back on that old myth of sports as the saviour of the disenfranchised black male.
Interestingly, whilst one could imagine Precious being made with a central character who was white, it seems unlikely that anyone would produce (let alone watch) a film about a poor white kid breaking free from his underclass shackles with the help of some Christianly Republicans.
And whilst the teacher in Precious facilitates Clarice’s empowerment, giving her the space to grow into a young woman capable of making choices for herself, and for her young children, the Michael Oher character in The Blind Side is almost entirely marginalised by the presence of Sandra Bullock (both in terms of her character within the narrative, but also her star persona in an extra-filmic sense). Far from being the story of a young black man rising above his desperate upbringing, this is a morality tale about the good heartedness of rich, white Christians, and about how, maybe, just maybe Southern Republicans aren’t so bad after all.
In that sense, its interesting to consider the rather large box office success of this film. It made over $255m domestically, making it far and away the highest grossing sporting film of all time – sitting almost $100m ahead of its nearest rival, Adam Sandler star vehicle The Waterboy (1998). Which begs, inevitably, the eternal question: why?
Perhaps the success is down to the fact that this is a story with which Americans are already somewhat familiar (the film does, after all, tell the story of Michael Oher, a professional footballer in real life)? Or maybe there is a sense that this is a film which treats Southerners – or, more particularly, Southern Republicans – with respect, without presenting them through a veil of violence, hatred and/or ridicule? Or maybe America simply ready for an uplifting story about a disenfranchised black male done good? Then again, perhaps it was all of these things?
Or maybe it was all down to the overbearing presence of a certain Sandra Bullock?