Actually, I’ve been able to watch a lot of good movies I missed (or am missing) in the States. Sometime I’ll make a list of the best, but this post isn’t about the best. It’s about the worst.
I didn’t know much about The Blind Side before I watched it. I knew it’s a true story about a football player. I know it got generally good reviews and was nominated for something or other. Aside from those things, I was clueless when I started watching it; and now that I’ve finished, I wish I had known a little more so I could have avoided it entirely.
The Blind Side is perhaps the most patronizing, denigrating white-fantasy nonsense I’ve ever seen. I don’t say this in reference to the story, which depicts a young black man, Michael Oher, with academic troubles and a mushy heart transcending his disadvantaged past to unlock his potential as an athlete. Although I don’t know for certain how true-to-life the film adaptation is, I’m fully willing to accept the story arc as legitimate.
No, what I find infuriating and disturbing is the relentless reinforcement of the film’s basic message: if you’re black, you’d better be sure there’s a rich white person selflessly working for your welfare… because you can’t do it alone, bucko.
Maybe it’s just that other similar films manage to package that same message in a more artistically subtle way, while The Blind Side has no qualms about walloping you over the head with it. Or maybe the movie simply is that ethically bankrupt, that it manages to stand out even among the impressively varied slagheap of WASPish self-love monuments. Every moment seems carefully constructed to fill your ears with screaming propaganda and scrape stereotypes across your eyes.
Sandra Bullock, an actress against whom I have no particular grievances, is ghastly as Leigh Anne Tuohy, a glaringly pale and blond southern socialite, wife to a fast-food maven whose head seems as empty as his restaurants’ calories. In Bullock’s hands, Leigh Anne fairly oozes duplicity; every line is as insincere as her Botoxed brow. It isn’t helped by a total lack of character development – apparently too much of the budget was spent on Bullock’s purses to allow for incidentals like depth.
Among the other paper-thin caricatures are Miss Sue, Michael’s tiresome-within-ten-seconds tutor, played by an astonishingly blase Kathy Bates; SJ Tuohy, Michael’s white bro, whose obnoxious precociousness becomes unbearable as soon as it becomes clear that his presence is essentially pointless except as a foil to Michael’s oft-emphasized dimness; and Leigh Anne’s husband, whose name I don’t remember. He is played by a painted-smile Tim McGraw and his moment in the sun is reciting, with the dynamism of a coconut, Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.” There’s a Tuohy daughter involved as well, but she’s only there so a yuppie friend of Leigh Anne can make a prediction of rape when Michael moves into the house.
Michael’s character is played with equal shallowness – I don’t recognize the actor – but this is appropriate, since the film is really about Leigh Anne and the myriad white gods and goddesses who populate his magical world. Michael doesn’t do things, and things don’t happen to him; rather, other people do things to him. He is so obviously an object, a project for the whites, that a big stuffed bear could easily be substituted onscreen and the feel of the film would be perfectly preserved.
A typical scene: at Thanksgiving, Michael separates himself from his football-watching “family” to eat alone in the dining room; sensing an opportunity, Leigh Anne harangues her husband and children into having a more traditional Thanksgiving by joining Michael at the dinner table. And Leigh Anne’s caked makeup suddenly smells like family values!
Leigh Anne buys Michael a truck, a gift after he receives his driver’s license. It is happily sacrificed so that Leigh Anne can show her forgiveness in the aftermath of a crash. And her drippy mascara grows even thicker with slimy compassion!
And she needs lots of that compassion, because man is Michael dumb! He’s having trouble at football practice, can’t seem to muster that protective instinct to guard his quarterback. Luckily Leigh Anne knows that all it takes is a two-bit metaphor comparing his teammates to his adoptive family and the lightbulb, all ten watts of it, flashes on above his head. This kid’s so slow that it takes Mr. Tuohy’s moronic comparison to a football match – because of course at this point Michael can’t comprehend anything so well as a game centered around violence – to get him to understand Tennyson’s poem.
Speaking of violence, there is of course one scene in which Michael acts for himself. (Okay, actually there is a second one later in the film – but that time only happens because he is manipulated by the Mad Black
That docility extends even to the imitation of his white saviors. Michael has few lines in the movie – that would ruin its appeal, of course – and none are memorable, but the writers did try to work in a couple that go beyond monosyllabic grunts: “Don’t you dare lie to me” and “I need a proper hug.” These are obviously far too complicated for Michael to have invented on his own; they’re actually lines stolen from earlier utterances by Leigh Anne herself.
I could go on. The film is a two-hour Rorschach test: study the inkblots and tell what picture the white spots make, and what the black. It’s so comically over-the-top and perversely self-assured that I don’t even know if it’s worth getting worked up over. Perhaps my emotion comes more from embarrassment than offense, but it is truly galling to watch what could have been a humanizing, inspiring story turned into a disgustingly smug ode to the pure white heart.