Sandra Bullock locates the finest groove of her career in “The Blind Side,” a true-to-life story (based on a best seller of the same title) about a wealthy, saintly family in Memphis, Tennessee, who take in a homeless black 17 year old. Under their care the boy — Michael Oher — flourishes. He plays college football, gets drafted by the Baltimore Ravens and goes on to NFL stardom. It’s a win-win scenario, everyone’s happy and a lot of grinning family photos (real ones) adorn the end credits. For all that, the only cast member with that enviable groove is Bullock. What happened?
Directed by John Lee Hancock (“Old Rookie”), the film pretends to be about Michael “Big Mike” Oher. But in actual fact it’s Bullock as southern-mama extraordinaire Leigh Ann Tuohy who is gloriously and triumphantly ensconced as the centerpiece — a multitiered frosted cake presiding at a banquet table.
Appropriately, “The Blind Side” opened in the U.S. last year on Thanksgiving weekend and its treacly feel-good texture and patronizing, do-the-right-thing sentiments hit the mark. It was nominated for a slew of awards including Sandra Bullock as Best Actress at the Oscars. This is certainly her vehicle, and she rides it with the gasp-inducing agility of a bronco rider in high heels. Whatever else you may feel about the movie it’s impossible not to fall under her spell and take-no-prisoners brand of authority. Certainly Leigh Ann’s husband Sean feels it too; he has the air of a slavishly devoted but slightly bewildered puppy tagging at her heels. “Do I have a choice?” is his recurring line — albeit nicely; he says it like an indulgent Rhett Butler shaking his head at the whims of Scarlett O’Hara. And when Leigh Ann asks him: “Am I a good person?” he has the monumental good grace not to roll his eyes at the rhetoricalness of her question.
Don’t get me wrong, Bullock’s Leigh Ann is a delight to watch, and during the 128 minutes we spend in her company we get to know a whole lot about her (like when she drawls “don’t get your panties in a wad” — it’s a moment to treasure). Having said that, it would have been nice to know more about everyone else, most notably Michael and the rest of her clan that includes pretty teenage daughter Collins (Lily Collins) and 10-year old son SJ (Jae Head). Alas, they’re mostly left in the swirls of dust she’s kicked up, blinking and applauding and blinking.
All hip-hugging mini dresses and cleavage offset by a 1960s Bond girl hairdo, Leigh Ann’s not exactly typecast as a do-good mom. Far from baking cupcakes or even bothering to baste the turkey for Thanksgiving (her way is to drive to a posh supermarket and buy everything off the stylish shelves), Leigh Ann concentrates on her job as an interior decorator and on Michael in whom she sees the makings of a pro footballer. In the process she gives new meaning to the word “bossy,” but at her core is genuine altruism and a cheerleader who just won’t quit. Sure enough, Leigh Ann was a cheerleader in college, and has remained an ardent sports fan, attending every event at her children’s school and at her alma mater, “Ole Miss (University of Mississippi),” with unflagging gusto. When she’s not cheering, she’s coaching or more often, admonishing. Docile Michael just goes along, basking gratefully in the heat she gives off, shrinking his towering frame and massive girth to fall into step alongside his adoptive mama.
Don’t worry about the race issue — the protocol seems to be to ignore it or gloss over it, and even when Leigh Ann describes Michael’s presence in an exclusive private school as “he looks like a big fly in a glass of milk,” the stab of embarrassment is fleeting and momentary (or at least it’s edited that way). Once you get past that, the message becomes obvious and it’s more personal than political. Race, money, social status — these factors fade into the background compared to the enormous luck of having a woman like Leigh Ann cheering you on.