Say what you will about Sandra Bullock’s talents as a thespian; she displays a shrewd sense of what will succeed commercially, nicely blending comedies, romances and the occasional drama into a career which keeps the turnstiles cranking in her favor. She does it again in this saccharine version of Michael Lewis’ book about the real-life exploits of Michael Oher, who used the generosity of The Touhys, an affluent white family, to rise from the shambles of a drug-addicted ghetto home to win a football scholarship at The University of Mississippi before being drafted earlier this year to play left guard for the Baltimore Ravens.
A jaded moviegoer might cryptically describe this as Ms. Bullock’s Erin Brokovich , for there’s more than a passing resemblance here to the “true story” plot and take-no-prisoners persona Julia Roberts provided in that film. And the facts of Oher’s remarkable journey from the projects to dean’s list honors at Old Miss and entrance into the NFL makes for a genuinely heartwarming storyline. But after opening the film with a literate explanation of the relevance of the movie’s title in football terms (accompanied by footage of the now famous career-ending injury Lawrence Taylor inflicted on quarterback Joe Theisman) writer/director John Lee Hancock, (The Rookie) quickly goes gooey.
Bullock plays Leigh Ann Touhy, a no-nonsense matriarch who runs her Texas-sized household and interior decorating business with the kind of buttoned-up style usually associated with military academies. When a chain of circumstances brings Oher into the Christian school attended by Leigh Ann’s two children, she encounters the lumbering, soft spoken teen-ager, who at the time was living on the streets. This gentle but woefully unschooled adolescent becomes a fixture in the Touhys household and a recipient of their efforts to assure that he’s able to catch up academically in order to play for the school’s football team. The inevitable occurs; Oher’s talents attract college recruiters, the Touhys provide academic tutors and the rest a history which won’t be completed until Oher’s exploits in the pros can be analyzed.
But Bullock’s Leigh Ann is too saintly by half and Quinton Aaron’s Oher too bland to generate anything resembling an honest, perceptive insight into what must have been the Herculean task of turning the raw potential of this young man into accomplished fact. Hancock’s screenplay relies instead on cutesy gimmicks (the geeky Touhy son, Oher’s aw-shucks high school coach, countless cameos of real college coaches, vile black bullies who seek to seduce Oher back to their side of the tracks) to pound home his theme, which can be summarized in disturbingly racist tones; the only way to rescue poor black kids from a lifetime of crime and underachievement is to turn them over to the loving care of a solid, upper-class, white family with good Christian values. If it may not the message Hancock intended, but it’s precisely what he delivered.
As Leigh Ann’s long-suffering, rich husband, Tim McGraw, (of country music fame) abandons his Stetson and promptly sinks under the weight of the thankless task to which Hancock assigned him - - playing second banana to Ms. Bullock, who looks great, dresses in a style slightly more refined style than that of a Dallas cheerleader and delivers all the best one-liners in Hancock’s contrived script. Some wags have insisted this role is a sure Oscar nomination for the actress; let’s hope the year produces performances far more qualified in that category than this one. Perky Ms. Bullock is; on the basis of this role, Oscar-worthy she most definitely is not.
That’s not to say the movie doesn’t succeed; indeed, I expect it will do very well at the box office, where white audiences will enjoy seeming themselves portrayed in such an uplifting manner. The film’s technical credits are professionally mid-range and the remaining members of the cast instantly forgettable. This one’s a star turn for Bullock and she makes the most of it.
The verdict? If you need to cheer for a sports film, this one will do - - but don’t expect much in the way of real quality. This one’s designed to pull at the heartstrings and make a lot of money and it will undoubtedly do well in both categories.Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus