Review: The Blind Side

JESS STEWART: ‘The film is so brilliantly chirpy’ but still ‘There’s room in this plot for both Disney-style optimism, and edgy realism’.

Disney Oscar Quinton Aaron Sandra Bullock The Blind Side

Directed by John Lee Hancock. 

Let’s put it this way: if ‘Precious’ was a movie that slapped you in the face with its brutal realism, ‘The Blind Side’ is more like being tickled with feathers, fed with candy-floss and licked all over the face by puppies. Thankfully, this isn’t always a bad thing. 

The Blind Side tells the tale of black youngster Big Mike (played very, very quietly by newcomer Quinton Aaron), living on the streets and more often than not passing his time in the laundrette washing one of only two shirts he owns. Luckily, he is picked up as a charity case by an undeniably brilliant Sandra Bullock and co. – the white suburban republicans who save Michael (he doesn’t like being called Big Mike) from his traumatic childhood. 

There’s room in this plot for both Disney-style optimism, and edgy realism. Problem is, we never really get round to the gritty stuff. Instead, there’s almost enough sugar-coating on occasion to induce our gag-reflex. The scenes set in Michael’s home town have enormous potential, which the film does not completely shy away from: drugs are alluded to, and it is particularly striking when his mother cannot remember the name of his biological father. But we do not SEE this substance abuse, and we do not SEE this abandonment: it’s in the past, and director John Lee Hancock lets it lie dormant. Thankfully, he gets the gushy bits bang on.

The film is so brilliantly chirpy, in fact, that it’s hard to believe it’s based on a true story. The real-life snaps that pop up during the credits are a shock to the system if you weren’t already aware of this – giving us a flick on the ear for being too cynical to believe the massive clichés that pile up. Rags-to-riches, thanks-for-saving-me-from-the-streets, wow-I’m-actually-quite-good-at-this-football-thing. It’s these photographs that provide the major emotional punch of the film, and we see more happiness in the face of real-life Michael than we ever do from Aaron’s portrayal of him.

The Michael in the film never really opens up, so we never really see him as much more than the large, slightly dumb kid with family issues. But this makes him a complex character, no? Passive acting and all that? Nah. Michael should be the star of his own film, but he is too underdeveloped to come anywhere near the spotlight. Instead, Sandra Bullock is given free-reign as Hollywood’s representative. And she’s bloody ace.

The film may not demand Oscar-worthy performances, but Bullock gives one anyway. She struts around with all the sass and feminine prowess of a ball-crushing soccer Mom, but is subtle enough to let softer moments shine through. The film shouldn’t really be about her, but in the end, we don’t mind that it is. We can’t help but think it’s a travesty that the film concentrates on the white saviour rather than the black victim, but if the entire film shone with as much grace as Bullock, then we’d be on our way to a great movie.

When we watch her settle down to bed each night, still plastered in her immaculately applied slap, we know the make-up artists have done a fabulous job – as has Hancock.  He’s erased the blemishes, the wrinkles and the scars and presented us with a film that’s picture-perfect. But (pardon the pun) he’s turned a blind eye to the darker issues that the narrative raises. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a pimple here and there – at least then we’d know that these characters are supposed to be human beings.