Thursday, November 19, 2009

She helps him reach NFL glory

Good mom Bullock reads to Quinton Aaron and Jae Head.

Michael Oher plays tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. If you happen to see a close-up of Oher on the sidelines, it might be difficult to distinguish him from the other behemoths who populate NFL lines. The dude is 6'5" tall and weighs 310 pounds. How exactly anyone can move these kinds of players off the line of scrimmage is beyond me, but that's a story for another day.

The story for today involves a movie called The Blind Side, which stars Sandra Bullock as the white mother who took the dispossessed Oher under wing and Quinton Aaron as Oher during his high school years.

If you've seen the trailer, you already have a pretty good idea about the movie: In other words, it's predictable in ways that are calculated to satisfy, and Oher's story does hold our interest. Oher managed to be admitted to a Memphis private school, mostly because the school's football coach (Ray McKinnon) hated to see his bulk go to waste. On the verge of homelessness, Oher attracted the attention of Bullock's Leigh Anne Tuohy, a no-nonsense woman who opened the family home to the kid everyone called "Big Mike."

The Tuohy family -- husband Sean (Tim McGraw), teen-age daughter Collins (Lily Collins) and younger brother SJ (Jae Head) -- all welcomed Michael. Eventually, the Tuohys adopted Michael and hired a tutor (Kathy Bates) to help boost his grade point average and make him scholarship eligible for college.

The movie also chronicles an NCAA investigation of Michael. Did Leigh Anne Tuohy push Michael toward Ole Miss, the school she and her husband attended? Did the Tuohys adopt Michael just to beef up Ole Miss' offensive line? Seems like a silly question, but it evidently was asked in real life.

In the movie version of the story -- based on The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, a book by Michael Lewis -- Bullock transforms Michael from a gentle kid into a ferocious lineman. She arouses his protective instincts, telling him to imagine that the quarterback is like his brother and sister. He must do what's necessary to keep the QB from harm.

Perhaps to keep things real, Michael occasionally visits his old neighborhood. And there's an affecting scene in which Bullock -- all snap, crackle and southern pop -- visits Michael's mother (Adriane Lenox), a defeated woman whose life has been ruined by an addiction to crack cocaine.

In a way, the movie is less about Michael Oher -- who pretty much goes along with the program -- than it is about Leigh Ann Tuohy, which is not surprising since Bullock -- and the promise of wholesome entertainment -- constitutes the draw here. Aside from the wisecracking SJ, who offers comic relief, most of the Tuohy family gets short shrift.

Director John Lee Hancock hits all the right marks for a movie that's meant to keep audiences involved and happy, and, yes, The Blind Side easily could have been more challenging. For me, the words "crowd pleasing" aren't an inducement, so I'll just say that Blind Side will achieve its success without me doing any over-the-top cheerleading.

And one final question: I'm glad Oher found a way out of poverty, but who exactly reaches out to the young men who can't block and tackle? Where's their movie?

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