The Blind Side tells the story of a homeless African-American teenager who is taken in by an affluent white family and goes on to become a big football player. Much of the marketing emphasizes the “big” portion of that phrase — indeed, Michael Oher pretty much doubles the combined volume of the Tuohy family when they take him in.
We have seen this premise before: talented underdog makes good, thanks to his own drive and a guardian angel. We know how these screenplays ebb and flow — the initial picture of despair, the arrival of the guardian angel at which point things begin to look up, the first setbacks, the first victories, the big crisis that threatens all that has gone before and the big victory in the end. Barring a few key differences, The Blind Side follows that pattern more or less faithfully.
This movie is about a good kid in a bad situation being helped by a good family. The “good” is emphasized throughout — if any of them have misgivings, they are treated in a very l0w-key manner. It is almost as if the makers assume that you can imagine the melodramatic parts by recalling other movies which have them. I could easily imagine someone — maybe even myself — writing a review about how this is the HAHK version of the underdog story. But the choice doesn’t turn out to be a problematic one for the most part.
A big reason why that is so is the first act. We see Michael being admitted to a prestigious private school, thanks to his potential for athletic glory. The teaching staff is understandably skeptical, given that his grade point average sounds like a probability figure. But after the first fifteen minutes of looking at Michael through other people’s eyes, we see Michael himself.
He is large, but seems to almost shrink into himself. He doesn’t want to be noticed. When he reveals at one point that he doesn’t like to be called “Big Mike”, it doesn’t come as a surprise. By far the most interesting choice the film makes here is that, while it is clear that the people around him have varying reactions to his presence, they never actually tell him anything. Most movies would use this opportunity to create some kind of confrontation, which is essentially an easy way of telling us what to feel about this guy. It is almost surprising how effective the movie is by not taking that route.
It is the Tu0hys who first pop that invisible bubble that Michael has created around himself and engage with him on a personal level. The process of them taking him in and making him a part of their family is shown to have very few hurdles. There is, however, one beautifully underplayed sequence when Leigh Anne storms out of a lunch with her friends when one of them suggests the inadvisability of having Michael live under the same roof as her teenaged daughter, but then asks her daughter quietly if this living arrangement indeed makes her uncomfortable. Frankly, until the issue was raised, I didn’t even think about it, nor did the film suggest it.
Where the film falters is towards the end, when some problems are brought into the picture and resolved in a manner that is somewhat unsatisfactory. Especially the one involving a teacher who doesn’t come around until the end — other than to give Michael a monologue, it seems to serve no purpose whatsoever. Given the plausibility issues in this subplot, one wonders if the movie wouldn’t have been better served if it had been left out altogether. However, the film does so many things right that I am disinclined to complain too much.
When Leigh Anne Tuohy first sees him on the road, realizes that he has no place to go and takes him home to spend the night, it seems almost impulsive. At some level, we never really understand why she does this. One of her friends ask her at one point if it is some sort of “white guilt” thing. At a later stage, another, more mercenary explanation is suggested as well. But the movie never pushes any explanation too far. We are never given a reason why a rich white American woman living in Memphis would adopt a homeless black teenager she sees on the street.
When I wondered about this while watching the movie, I realized something. We live in a world where we need something like this explained to us. The fact that someone is a really good person apparently isn’t enough. Sometimes I wonder if we spend too much time looking for what we don’t see.