The Blind Side (2009)

Director: John Lee Hancock
Screenwriter: John Lee Hancock
Adapted from: The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by Michael Lewis
Cast: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron, Jae Head, Lily Collins, Ray McKinnon, Kathy Bates
Nominations: Picture, Actress – Sandra Bullock
Win: Actress – Sandra Bullock

While I haven’t previously seen a number of Best Picture nominees, I do have a cursory knowledge about each of them.  Most times what I know is from the brief description on the film’s IMDb page; sometimes I’ve read reviews and/or watched the trailer; other times I’ve read about it in connection with another film or filmmaker.  Regardless of whether I’ve already seen the movie or have read about it, I try my best to go into the viewing for this site with an open mind.  In the case of The Blind Side, I wasn’t able to escape the mixed reviews upon its release nor could I not read through the criticism of its “white woman saves the day” narrative.  Nevertheless, having not seen the movie, I wanted to be a blank slate for what was to come.

Unfortunately, I found myself remembering and agreeing with much of what I’d read.

That’s not to say that The Blind Side isn’t a good movie—it’s as well-made as any major studio release—rather, it’s an extremely safe movie.  So much of the film feels like it’s doing all it can to not upset or offend anyone that any kind of drama the plot could generate is sapped dry because of the pat predictability.  Even if you don’t know Michael Oher or his story, is there any doubt about how this story will play out?  It’s almost insulting how the film tries to get us to think that Michael isn’t going to succeed: of course he is, he has a support system that believes in him, ensuring that even if there’s a hiccup along the way—not knowing how to play football, not playing aggressively during the game, struggling to bring up his GPA, being questioned by an NCAA investigator—that obstacle only lasts for two or three scenes before getting resolved.

Now, there’s nothing inherently bad or wrong about that.  In fact, movies like The Blind Side are akin to comfort food: watching them makes us feel good.  We feel hopeful and inspired about humanity, and what people are capable of when seeing someone who needs a helping hand.  We’re not given any deeper themes or meanings, because everything about The Blind Side and its brethren is all on the surface.  Even when given the opportunity to add subtext and layers—with Ferdinand the bull from the classic picture book written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson—the film instead lays the cards out on the table to make sure the audience doesn’t miss the connection between Michael and Ferdinand.  It might not seem like that big of a thing, but the beauty about subtext is that little bit goes a long way.

The Blind Side was never intended to push the envelope of storytelling or filmmaking, so looking for it to do so wouldn’t be fair.  At the same time, because of how straightforward and simplistic the film is, it’s inarguably among the weakest of the 563 Best Picture nominees.