I was lucky enough to see The Blind Side yesterday, an Academy Award winning feature starring Sandra Bullock and some other people. Before I get into it, I have to say, Bullock deserved her win for Best Actress-- she inhabited her role immensely, and even though her accent grated on me like nothing else could (during the opening scene I leaned over to my mother and said "She's not going to be doing that accent throughout the entire film... right?"), she portrayed a strong, controlled woman, and you have to respect the sheer chutzpa she was throwing left, right and centre. I mean, I liked her. I thought she was great. I didn't care if she was the epitome of Right-Wing America, she was a brilliantly crafted character, and you can understand why the Republicans have latched onto the film as 'theirs'. Sandra Bullock's Leigh Anne Tuohy is everything they'd hoped Sarah Palin was going to be (oh, but how she faltered), and the story at the heart of the film? You have to respect it.
Now, praise aside, I have to say, no matter how well meaning or well filmed this film was, it was a seriously flawed picture. The tone veered wildly from one scene to the next, and it didn't help that the actor playing Michael Oher-- Quinton Aaron, chosen, I'm sure, because he was built like a brick shit house-- had the charisma of a stick. I understand that he was supposed to be socially awkward, somewhat broken inside (thusly meaning that Bullock's character had something to 'fix') young person, but even shining moments couldn't redeem a sheer lack of acting ability.
I wanted to enjoy this film. I want to enjoy any film that's been well received, and to be fair, I had no preconceptions when entering the theatre. Normally, I know the ending. I know the plot, I know the twists, I know everything about a film before I even step inside-- one of the problems that arise from working in a cinema. This, on the other hand, took me by surprise once or twice. One) the aforementioned accent Bullock was sporting and Two) how damn patronising the entire film was.
Michael Oher, the stereotypical silent black giant that perpetuates the form, needed the reassurance and help of the God-loving Tuohy family to get somewhere in life. Heck, I know this is based in real life (somewhat-- I'm sure liberties were taken in places) but there was nary a redeeming black character in sight. We had the full course of negative black stereotypes: gang-bangers, rapists, drug-addicts, and even one angry black lady, but the real heroes were the Tuohys, white, God lovin' saviours of the disenfranchised, illiterate black sports prodigy. It was around the midway point that my opinion of this film crystallised, and I'd had enough. I can only take so much back-patting, self-congratulatory story-telling.
So my enjoyment of the film was hampered. There were moments I loved-- Oher getting over his initial 'stage fright' during Wingate Christian School's first game of the season and taking a player 'to the bus', Oher putting his arm in front of SJ (a character I'll talk about in a moment) as they crash into a truck to protect him from near death, and Leigh Anne's realisation that Oher's testing in the 98th percentile of 'protective instinct' is instrumental to his character is just sublime in it's simplicity. The moment when Oher and SJ hit another vehicle was daunting-- I was expecting it from the moment they got in the car-- and it was a small thing that some might miss-- but during the quick cuts just as the air-bags deploy, Oher throws his arm in front of SJ, saving him from the full force of the potentially neck-breaking, jaw-shattering impact. Leigh Anne realising what Oher did was wonderful. I could forgive Aaron's lack of acting ability for that.
Now, another problem I had-- SJ Tuohy. The comic relief. Whenever he came onto the screen, with his cheeky child actor grin and his ability to speak (don't you just hate it?) the tone veered off completely. The film couldn't decide what it wanted to be, and this character was part and parcel of that. It wanted to be funny in parts, because it felt like the director wasn't sure the audience could handle a straight melodrama. So we had coaches from across the country (played by real coaches, and by God you could tell) trying to poach Oher, and they had to make an offer to SJ too. Wow, that was a new low for this film. Seriously, it hurt seeing these coaches trying to act. Bad luck, guys. So we had our awkward cameos, our forced comic moments, and not only that but we had an action sequence (off the football field) with Oher confronting a gang-banger who just threatened his adoptive family! With rape! Oher becomes a superhero, able to dodge bullets and move faster than a speeding one as guns are pulled and he becomes ultimate bad ass (so yeah, I guess he does make a good American football player, eh?), only to be hampered from the film's trend of showing flashbacks to a time he wasn't such a hardcore guy.
So, how would I rate this film? Mediocre. Not better than average, because it just couldn't nail down what it wanted to be. It veered from genre to genre, it felt wildly out of place within itself at times, and yes, it was directed well (the American football set pieces were spot on), and for the most part well-acted (Tim McGraw can kind of act!), but I don't think I can forgive it for it's major flaws, namely the overbearingly patronising tone and the flat acting from Quinton Aaron. Oh, and the fact that Sandra Bullock's accent hurt my soul.
I think Scott Tobias from The Onion's A.V. Club sums up my thoughts somewhat in his review of the film, calling it "a new low" in the "long, troubled history of well-meaning white paternalism".
You know what I mean, right?