The key phrase to keep in mind while watching The Blind Side is “based on a true story”. Directed, written by John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), the movie sprang from the book “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” by Michael Lewis. In this true story, Michael Oher was adopted by the Tuohy family, thrived in his new environment and currently plays for the Baltimore Ravens. As such, I won’t get to give my near obligatory commentary of this being like Diff’rent Strokes or Webster brought to the big screen. Truth be told, it’s a much better movie than that.
As a teenager, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) survives on his own, virtually homeless, when a feisty Memphis belle, Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock, executive producer of Crash thus no stranger to movies with racial themes as a backdrop), spots him on the street. On what seems like a whim, she invites him to stay at the Tuohy home for the night. Which becomes another night. Then another. Then they bring him into their family. The family helps him fulfill his potential even as he helps them discover things about themselves. The fact that this was based on a true story ameliorates the stretches of credulity.
“You have to ask yourself ‘Is this me?’” –Leigh
Michael Oher is an outsized, introverted teen from the poverty-stricken projects of Memphis with no academic record and a crack addict for a mother. Outcast, too big, too stupid, too poor, too black, he feels shame due to the system’s failure. Barely educated after years of neglect, Michael can scarcely speak, much less read. The school system had given up on him as he was passed along as someone else’s problem. Not a magical Negro by any stretch, he is, however, “the chosen one”, the lucky one, the one that makes it.
There’s a perception that the poor want to live as they do, where they are because they are lazy or as the result of their choices. The reality is that most want to transition out of the streets, but they were let down, if not abandoned, by the system. These are the forgotten, the invisible, “the least of these” that Christ often spoke about.
Often people will do something for the poor they encounter and are shocked that they didn’t get a drop to their knees cry of gratitude (the unspoken sentiment being “they should be grateful to get anything”). Forgetting that the poor are human beings, with pride and inherent worth. They don’t want to be anyone’s feel good project. They want what everyone wants: to be treated with respect and dignity; valued because they too were created in God’s image. So asking for a simple thing as having their name respected isn’t too much to ask. In the final analysis, all Michael needed was for people to believe and invest in him.
“Look at the wall. ‘Christian”. We either take that seriously or we paint over it.” –Coach Cotton (Ray McKinnon)
The question is “why do the Tuohys do it? What would make them take in this penniless stranger and make him a part of their lives? A desperate coach finagles a way for him to attend their private Christian school, but we know his motives. The Tuohys have a strong allegiance to Ole Miss, so they could just be boosters with a long term plan. Yes, there is a case that could be made that this movie is guilty of being a white liberal fantasy implying that poor, black folks need only have a hand up (or could only get by) with the help of some rich, well-intentioned white folks. But there’s not that “Oh, Lawdy, thank you” type undercurrent to this (and this not-so-veiled racism is addressed when Leigh confronts some of her well-to-do-friends). The central theme is about the need to invest in people and create family; about how to open up your home and lives to take in “the least of these.”
There’s a cost to discipling or mentoring others. You pour in your time, energy, emotional resources, often at the sacrifice of time and energy from your family or friends or other responsibilities. Partly because at the end of the day you want to know that you’ve made a difference and that people are better off from having encountered and shared life with you.
Jesus set the example, having led by serving. He saw needs–physical, emotional, or spiritual–met them, and THEN spoke. It was more important for him to walk alongside his disciples and pour himself into their lives—getting a towel and washing the feet of those who walked beside him—rather than isolate himself. Even knowing that some would deny or betray him later.
“This team is your family.” –Leigh
Hollywood knows what stories to base their movies on as it seems content to tell the same type of story over and over again. Despite sticking to the expected inspirational sports-movie/fish-out-of-water conventions, The Blind Side nevertheless proves to be an affecting movie. It’s more a heartwarming movie about what it means to build, become, and protect family than a football movie.
Aaron portrays Michael Oher as emotionally vulnerable, not an idiot savant with an eyes downcast performance which is all the script asks him to do. Only near the end do we get a sense of Oher the man and what goes on inside his head. It’s almost as if the film, as well as many of the characters in the movie, never get around to asking “what do you think?”
Bullock gives Leigh sass, iron-will and unabashed sentiment* while Tim McGraw is marvelous as her supportive, somewhat long suffering husband. S.J. Tuohy (Jae Head) nearly steals the movie with his humor and mugging-for-dollars cuteness. Involving, affecting and, for the most part, emotionally honest, The Blind Side is a touching depiction of what can happen when some reach out to “the least of these.” And the movie made my wife tear up on at least three occasions, which she thought I didn’t notice. Also a true story.
*The record should also reflect that at no point in this review was Bullock’s performance described as a “hoot.”