If pressed for my favorite type of movie behind the western, it would be a tough decision, but one of the main contenders would have to be sports movies. In comedy and drama, real life and fictional, old and new, sports movies seem to carry on. Even being pretty cynical when it comes to movies, the sports movie is the one genre I'm always happy to see the happy Hollywood ending.
Released in late November in theaters, The Blind Side is a perfect example of a movie that has thrived because of word of mouth. It got decent enough reviews but nothing extraordinary. Now two months later, Blind Side has earned over $200 million in theaters and is even picking up steam in hopes of getting some nominations coming up in awards season. I finally got around to seeing it this weekend -- 3 movies in theaters in one week is a new record for me -- and ended up loving this sugary, sappy sweet movie based on the true story of Baltimore Ravens lineman Michael Oher.
With a drug addict mother and a father who abandoned the family a week after his son was born, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) cares for himself, staying with friends whenever he can and just barely skating by at school. He's accepted to Wingate Christian High School, a private school in Memphis, with some help of a friend's father, but just trying to survive takes priority over schoolwork. So one day walking back to the school gym to stay the night, Michael is stopped by Leigh Ann Touhey (Sandra Bullock) and her family driving home from a volleyball game.
Married to a well to-do businessman Sean (Tim McGraw) and with two kids, high school junior Collins (Lily Collins) and precocious youngster S.J. -- for Sean Jr -- (Jae Head), Leigh Ann has the ideal life. But seeing this high school student living on his own, Leigh Ann says he can come home with them and sleep on their couch. What starts as one night turns into another and another until Michael finally just moves in with them, with Leigh Ann and Sean finally becoming his legal guardians. Michael slowly opens up to them and really hits his stride when introduced to playing football. Standing 6'4 and weighing almost 300 lbs, Michael takes to the sport right away.
This movie doesn't have a negative bone in its body, and that's a good thing. Blind Side director John Lee Hancock has worked with true stories before, like 2004's The Alamo, and also true sports stories, 2002's The Rookie, and handles Michael Oher's story perfectly without being too sentimental...although it's hard not to feel for the character. Seeing him change and develop with his surroundings then is that much more effective when it does happen. From the get-go, you're in Michael's corner. He's trying to rise above a situation in the poorer neighborhoods of Memphis where very few people get out of. With help from the Touheys, he does just that.
Last night at the Golden Globes, Sandra Bullock won the award for best actress in a motion picture, and good for her. I've always thought of her more as a comedic actress -- although she was excellent in Crash playing completely against type -- but Bullock delves into the Leigh Ann Touhy character and brings her to life. Full of personality and personal beliefs, it's hard to take your eyes away from her. Where Bullock's Touhey is out-going and downright confrontational at times, Aaron's Michael is just the opposite. He's quiet, mild-mannered and generally introverted until he's given a chance to express himself, and that's when he begins to thrive. It is a great performance by Aaron and hopefully a springboard for him in the future.
Bullock and Aaron dominate the movie's screentime, and it is their relationship that the movie succeeds with, but the supporting cast does not disappoint. If anything, McGraw is underused as Leigh Ann's husband Sean, but with what's provided makes the most of of thinly written part. Young Jae Head is that movie kid, the one who talks like no kid ever has, but is very cute, very precocious in doing it. His bonding with Michael provides some of the movie's funnier moments. Kathy Bates also makes an appearance as Miss Sue, Michael's tutor and Ray McKinnon hams it up as Coach Cotton, Wingate's football coach.
Like most serious sports movies, Hancock's Blind Side does attempt to pull the old heart-strings a bit but it doesn't try too hard. Because of that, the movie works in that middle ground, not too sappy, not too distant. Working with a true story and real people has to be tricky, but the movie handles it well. Highly enjoyable overall for a good old-fashioned well told story. It's weird how good stories turn into good movies, isn't it?
The Blind Side <----trailer (2009) *** 1/2 /*****