Sandra Bullock stars in this bland homily paper-chain
Cert: 12A, 2hr9mins
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron
You get the measure of The Blind Side – the film Sandra Bullock bagged an Oscar for – without having really seen it. We start on footage of an American football game, and Bullock‘s voice-over is letting us know how important defence is.
“Because as every housewife knows,” she explains in her Southern twang, “the first check you write is for the house, the second check, is for the insurance”.
Now, just read that again. Go on. The first thing you’ll notice is: it’s nonsense. But the second thing is: it’s actually worse than nonsense, it’s pandering nonsese that talks down to its audience in the most elemental way – the genuine assumption everyone else is beneath you. Close your eyes, and it could be a line in a Sarah Palin campaign speech.
It’s no surprise, then, that that queen of homespun homilies has professed herself a huge fan of The Blind Side – the “heart-warming” true-life tale of a rich, white, southern Republican family who take in a black kid from the wrong side of town and help him towards college and an NFL contract.
Sounds like a real-life Disney film, doesn’t it? Exactly. So why director John Lee Hancock has gone one-step further is a mystery. In his hands, every crease is smoothed, every imperfection airbrushed. It’s not just Disneyland, it’s the Disneyland brochure.
Take the troubled kid, Michael Oher (played with the minimal amount of facial expressions by Quinton Aaron) at the story’s heart. He grew up with a mother on crack and bounced between care homes. Now, it goes without saying that, after some initial scepticism, he’ll eventually come to trust this new family. Fine, that’s Hollywood. But you know what form this takes? First he’s quiet for a bit, then he talks. Halliujhauh! He’s saved! Quick, Mike, get in the family photo! There’s nothing – not even a hint – of the kind of understandable aggravation, or upset, or jealousy, or teething troubles, that might upset their easy Christian dreams. I don’t even think he leaves the toilet seat up.
But then, Mike‘s not really a character at all: he’s a docile, nodding, yes ma’am-ing all-purpose putty for everyone else to mould, and feel good about themselves once they’ve shaped him in the desired fashion, from Bullock‘s blonde-frosted matriarch (a good performance, but hardly an Oscar-worthy one) to the school’s football coach, to Kathy Bates‘ liberal tutor (all learning, naturally, is done in montage to stirring Learning Music).
Now, as to the “racism” debate. For my money, it’s not. Cringingly uncomfortable and patronising? Oh yes. You try sitting through the so-buttock-clenching-you-might-stand-up-with-the-seat-still-attached scene where Mike, struggling to learn how to tackle, is sternly told by Bullock: “This team is your family Michael. You protect them!”. Well, gee, thanks mom – now I get it. Does she do this for supper too, you wonder? “Those greens are your family Michael. You put them somewhere warm!” Or to get him to change the channel? “Those Sex and the City girls are your family Michael. You let them in the door!”
But awful moments aside, let’s be clear: in real-life, it was still an act of kindness, and Christian Republican b>NRA-loving kindness is kindness all the same. But then, there’s that problem again: in this homily paper-chain of a film, designed to warm and never to upset, we don’t get a measure of how kind they were, or how brave Mike was, because everything seems so easy. That’s the problem with homilies: by telling the easy lie, you cheapen the area where courage and kindness are truly tested: the hard truth.
4 out of 10