The Blind Side is the true story of the high-school years of Baltimore Ravens lineman Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), who was born in a Memphis housing project with no father and a drug-addicted mother. Because of his athletic potential and despite his woeful academic performance, Mike gains admission to a Christian high school. His big break comes when the Tuohy family, at first unofficially and eventually legally, adopts him.
The Blind Side is a standard uplifting Hollywood sports story, in which obstacles are overcome and the underdog ends up victorious. The film has its share of emotionally overwrought scenes and a few incredible moments. But The Blind Side, with a script adapted and directed by John Lee Hancock, who worked similar magic with The Rookie, manages to overcome these defects, largely because of its humor and genuine warmth, and because of a terrific performance by Sandra Bullock as the gorgeous, effervescent, and tough-minded Leigh Anne Tuohy.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Tuohy family — which also includes dad Sean (Tim McGraw in a solid performance), high-school-age daughter Collins (Lily Collins), and her younger brother, S.J. (Jae Head as a Macaulay Culkin clone who provides comic relief even if he overacts) — passes Mike, who’s wearing a T-shirt and walking alone on the road from school. Leigh Anne demands that Sean turn the car around and find out where Mike is going. Sensing that he has nowhere to go, she invites him to their home.
Mike is gentle and taciturn, but Leigh Anne slowly coaxes information out of him about his past — one that includes drug addiction, serial sexual encounters, and rampant violence. Brief trips to Mike’s former neighborhood provide a sense of the squalor and moral corruption that threatened to engulf his life and destroy any hope of future success. It must be said that these scenes, especially those in which Leigh Anne, dressed in posh, alluring clothes, confronts and intimidates gun-toting drug dealers, strain credibility.
Leigh Anne’s toughness comes through in more believable and more humorous ways in the rest of the film. During a football practice, in which Oher’s timid blocking on the offensive line exasperates his coach, Leigh Anne marches onto the field and, as she passes the baffled coach, informs him that he can thank her later. She then pulls Mike aside and explains to him that his teammates are family; in the same way that he would protect his new off-field family, he needs to devote himself to clearing the way for his on-field family. As she leaves the field, she tells the coach that he needs to know his players better. It turns out that Oher, well below average in standard measures of cognition, scores very high in protective instincts.
In his first game, Mike is taunted on the field by a brash and bigoted defensive lineman, and, from the stands, by that lineman’s redneck father. When Mike finally responds, he blocks the poor defender all the way off the field and into the stands. Leigh Anne turns to the boy’s father and says, “Hey, Deliverance, that’s my son!”
Mike’s awakening happens more easily and more rapidly on the field than in the classroom. Skeptical about his having being admitted at all, the teachers predict failure and are not deeply sympathetic. One makes the not unreasonable argument that the school has set him up for failure. With the help of a tutor, Miss Sue (Kathy Bates), Oher eventually comes to master the elements of essay writing.
Miss Sue initiates one of the funniest exchanges in the film. About to be hired by Leigh Anne, Miss Sue states that before they go any farther, there is one thing she needs to tell her. Leigh Anne hesitantly asks, “What is it?” Bates responds, “I’m a Democrat.” Tuohy is momentarily stunned. As Miss Sue leaves, Sean wonders aloud, “How is it that we took in a young black man before we ever met a Democrat?” The Tuohies’ sense of humor about their politics is clearly lost on the New York Times’s A. O. Scott, who scorns what he takes to be the film’s celebration of “selective charity.” It is refreshing to see Hollywood produce a film that portrays a Republican and Christian family in a favorable light. It is also refreshing that politics surfaces only in passing and is subordinate to a compelling story. If the film has a lesson, it is only indirectly political. It is about the intact, loving family as the ordinary condition of human flourishing.