When you see as many movies as I do, you learn to avoid entire categories, either because you don’t like them or because you’re just flat out tired of ‘em. For example, I skipped last year’s “The Class” and “The History Boys”, just because I’m tired of the whole Blackboard Jungle thing.
Even when I like a movie, if I’m acutely aware of the formula, it can be hard to really get into it. (I liked “The Last Samurai” but I couldn’t keep from thinking “Oh, look, a white guy’s gonna show the Japanese how to be better Japanese.”)
Rarely, however, you end up missing something that approaches a well-worn storyline in a refreshing way, as I almost did with the new Great Expectations-ish The Blind Side.
In this movie, Michael Oher, a ginormous black orphan who has lucked into a place in a fancy Christian private school, ends up being adopted by Leigh Ann Tuohy (a MILFed-up Sandra Bullock). Over the next two hours, they change each others’ lives.
You can understand my dread. “Based on a true story!” even.
In what constitutes a Thanksgiving miracle—yeah, it’s been out for a while—this actually works. Why?
Well, first of all, the characters are well-defined and interesting, the story is lively with lots of barriers impeding the characters’ desires, the dialogue is funny and touching, and the resolution is satisfying. It all sounds so easy when you put it that way. But really, there are a ton of pitfalls t this kind of movie, and the movie avoids almost all of them neatly.
For example, there’s a tendency (to put it mildly) in a movie like this to wallow in racism. There is racism in this film, but it goes both ways and mostly comes across as one of many forms of xenophobia. There’s no temptation to make it the central point of the film.
This can lead to the related pitfall of viewing the world as a unrelentingly cruel place where selfishness is the sole motivator, and the righteous protagonists are the only beacon of hope, sacrificing all in the process. Now, the Tuohys are definitely good folk, but there’s no real hardship for them. It’s not about them “sacrificing”; the movie shows a convincing case that (as said in the movie’s most wince-worthy moment) Michael is changing their lives.
Their “sacrifices” are shown in contrast to what their charge has endured, but rather through their understanding of those things, instead of through graphic flashbacks. Really, the only serious discussion about whether they should be doing what they’re doing revolves around their kids. And even then, it’s not like there’s a question that they should help.
It’s kind of refreshing. And it feels true, too, in the characters’ reactions to what is, essentially, Leigh Ann’s rather powerful sense of responsibility.
The tertiary characters are a rich assortment. There’s a lot of naked self-interest. There’s some altruism. There’s a veneer of altruism masking healthy doses of self-interest. At the same time, the movie doesn’t try to portray self-interest as evil. It comes across as natural: There is an “I”; there is also an “us” (as in our team or family). In other words, it seems very realistic.
This movie avoids The biggest pitfall of all—mawkishness. This is charmingly reflected in Leigh Ann’s tendency to leave the room rather than have anyone see her get emotional. But the whole film does that: It shows us the projects, the poverty, the bureaucracy, the politics, the opulence, the desperation, the kindness, the bravery—all without the high melodrama or glib politics these sorts of movies are prey to. It allows you to feel what you’ll feel from the circumstances, not from having characters overact.
I can’t say I viewed it entirely apolitically. The Tuohys are Republican. So Republican, apparently, they don’t know any Democrats. But this is more of a cute point, only significant because I can’t recall any film ever where the main characters are both kind, generous and explicitly Republican. The real (political) thought that occurred to me, as I was watching this poor kid wander around The Projects was, “Gosh, everyone wants to go to public school and live in public housing! Why wouldn’t they be crazy about public health care?”
So, yeah, I brought my own snark. The movie doesn’t address the issue at all. (Which is fitting, I think.)
Anyway, the Boy (my 14-year-old movie companion) enjoyed it quite a bit. I attribute that to the lack of gross sentimentality and the general liveliness of the whole movie.
Anyway, if you’re like me and you’ve been waffling on seeing it, give it a shot: There’s a reason it’s still playing. And stay for the closing credits to see pictures of the real Tuohys with Michael Oher.
(Previously posted at Ace of Spades HQ.)