The Blind Side: Sandra Bullock's sticky milk of human kindness
Whenever I see a film that’s been labeled a “feel-good movie”, I know I’m going to feel bad. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the waves of nausea that kept crashing over me with every new scene in The Blind Side, Sandra Bullock’s 2010 Oscar winner. I’d avoided this picture up till now, but an insatiable curiosity as to just what kind of performance could trump both Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren led me to finally give in to The Blind Side. I only made it through the first hour of the film before switching it off, but it’s an hour I wish I could get back.
I could stomach the saccharine Good Samaritanism and the cloying performances, the formulaic plotting and the by-the-numbers script, the hallmark channel production values and the toothpaste commercial editing, but I was not able to swallow the self-righteous Christian conservatism or the not-so-subtle racism masquerading as white man’s guilt. The Blind Side might be based on a true story, a true story that no doubt has many nuances, dark sides, upsides, and even blind sides, but this movie is a pearly white, scrubbed clean vanity project not just for Sandra Bullock, but for all those moviegoers who prefer their messages of charity uplift to be soft-serve and self-satisfying.
The film introduces a barrage of inauthentic moments designed to pummel the large black teenager known as Big Mike into a submissive, gooey mass of noble instincts. Quinton Aaron, the young actor unfortunately cast in this role is, I’m sure, a very interesting guy off screen, but on screen he is a giant hackeysack kicked from one do-gooding character to the next, all of whom are first repelled by the kid and then, in turn, watchful, helpful, maternal, and avuncular. Big Mike is yet another in a long line of black supporting characters—the distinguished chauffeur, the wise butler, the mystical caddy—who act as a sponge to sop up the dripping hypocrisies left behind by the white characters. This could be grist for high-stakes racial invective in the hands of the right kind of script, but The Blind Side drains away any hint of personality or conflict in Big Mike. He may be black but he is utterly bloodless. What lip service the film pays to the kid’s tortured past is in the form of the usual ghetto clichés: crack addiction, parental abandonment, a 3rd grade education.
None of this is of course forgivable, but it would be forgettable if it weren’t for the Oscar given to Bullock for her milk of magnesia performance as the Christian country club wife of a Taco Bell tycoon. Bullock insures that she is framed front and center in every shot, her make-up just right, the honeyed highlights of her hair catching the rays of backlight, surrounded not by other actors but by moveable cut-outs representing the Husband, the Daughter, the Friend, the Coach and, in the most egregious case, the smart alecky Son. Bullock’s every line of dialogue is either an aphorism or a punch line, like she is delivering an inspirational speech at a PTA meeting. And this is the best performance by an actress in any movie last year? Really? Better than Streep? Mirren? Gabby Sidibe? How about Tilda Swinton in the movie, Julia? Did anyone see that film? Anyone at all?