Year Released: 2009
Directed by: John Lee Hancock
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron
(PG-13, 126 min.)
Academy Awards (2010)
Actress in a Leading Role: Sandra Bullock
"It’s not the load that breaks you down. It’s the way you carry it." Lou Holtz
When’s the last time you came out of a movie feeling warm and reassured rather than frozen in fear about the next imminent apocalypse? And I don’t mean cheap feel good emotions manipulated by some slick marketing, but the real thing. That’s exactly what this film is. The Real Thing.
And not just because it’s based on a true story. Hollywood, unfortunately, has a history of taking true gold and rendering it into cheap brass on too many occasions. Although The Blind Side seems ready made to drop into saccharin depths, it is saved by a saucy and tart Sandra Bullock, finding at last a role that is deserving of her talent. She has the same hard shelled exterior that gave the humor and texture to the leads in Gran Torino and Up.
Newcomer Quinton Aaron plays the homeless and almost illiterate black teenager who comes into her life with a quiet dignity and stoicism that speaks all the louder through his silence.
Many have noted that the somber and realistic backdrop is set by the opening, real film footage of quarterback Joe Theismann ending his career just seconds after the toss when he is tackled on his blind side. Thereafter, as the voiceover by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) informs us, the protective action of the left offensive tackle has become paramount.
The camera zooms onto a large and lumbering black teen as she describes ideal physical traits of said lineman. Huge hands and feet, wide hips, and fast footwork, a real human bear of a man. But Big Mike, as he is called, does not have the heart of a bear; in fact, he seems to have had the heart beat out of him. His face is bereft of expression as he drinks in the new world of Wingate Christian School where he is accepted on scholarship.
Surprise, surprise. The white Christian school is not really full of Bible thumping bigots, and it is largely on an appeal to their Christian calling that football Coach Cotton (Ray Mckinnon) persuades the school to accept Big Mike in spite of his appalling academic credentials. Of course, we all know his Christian charity is colored by hopes that this human freight train will be paramount in derailing the opposition, but the scene is refreshing, none the less.
Leigh Anne Tuohy is mostly unaware of Big Mike, keeping her well manicured hands busy with her cell phone, trying to talk her design clients out leatherette strato loungers with the same bossy decisiveness she uses in coaching her volleyball playing daughter Collins from the sidelines. She struts around in stiletto heels, perfectly coiffed blond hair, and designer garb that clings to her ample curves and somehow manages to give a touch of class to the ubiquitous plunging necklines.
But her insular world changes the rainy night a soaking Big Mike passes in front of the headlights of the family car. She ushers him into the back seat like a blue heeler nipping an errant calf to safety. The look on Big Mike’s face when they arrive at the family home, a rambling Memphis mansion perched on the manicured lawn, is priceless. It is not the clichéd wide eyed stare, but the soulful gaze of one entering a magic realm.
But the magic realm is tempered with reality, too, as well as a sense of humor. After settling Mike on the couch downstairs, Leigh Anne says to husband Sean (Tim McGraw), a saint of a man who learned to roll with the tidal waves that Leigh Anne sometimes brings ashore, “You don’t think he’ll steal anything, do you?” That realistic doubt anchors the film, perhaps because it is exactly what some of us, at least, would be thinking ourselves. Leigh Anne may have a heart of gold, but she is no bleeding heart pushover either.
Which she amply demonstrates later when she faces down a drug dealing thug in the dangerous part of town. That and a bit of verbal dexterity, as she tosses back the B word he lobbies at her with a strong backhand, also telling him that she is registered with the NRA and that she is always “packing.” Her Saturday night special works the rest of the week, too, she reminds him. No fighting man in combat fatigues ever turned his back on his enemy with more nerve than Leigh Anne does as she pivots and clicks away in her heels and sheath.
And not only does she belong to the NRA, Leigh Anne and Sean are Republicans, to boot. When the tutor they hire to help Big Mike tells them she is a not, Sean quips, “Who would have thought we’d have a black son before we knew a Democrat?”
One of the best things a great writer or director can do is get out of the way for the audience to think and feel. We may respond to a tear jerker, but we do resent our emotions being rung out of us on cue. Bullock’s Leigh Anne swallows her feelings when she is most vulnerable, freeing us to feel our own emotions rather than mimic hers. One such scene is when she finally arranges a room for Michael – he has told her he doesn’t like being called Big Mike. She has bought him a water bed, which she explains, is preferred by many large athletes. “I’ve never had one before,” Michael tells her.
“What, your own room.?”
“No, a bed.”
We can see how strongly this affects Leigh Anne by the absolute control she puts on her face until she manages to get into her room and close the door. No sounds of weeping, no sobs leaking out beneath the doorframe. But we know that her heart is wrenched, because ours is too.
Watching this film, I thought I had been magically transferred to Frank Capra land, where the Depression and war torn nation could take solace in films that reminded us of our better natures. It’s about time Hollywood did that again. The Blind Side is a worthy beginning.
Although Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy live in Memphis, they are both products of Ole Miss -- he a former star basketball player and she a cheerleader, of course. When Michael shows his stuff on the football field, he is deluged with college recruiters, many played by the actual coaches of those schools, such as Lou Holtz. They vie with each other to lure him to their school, promising, among other things, lavish attention for his little brother SJ Tuohy, an irrepressible elf who sees himself as the first preteen sports agent.
Sean tells Michael that his alma mater, Ole Miss, has great food, and a ice cream machine with endless refills in the dorm, noting with a sly wink, “that’s where Leigh Anne put on the freshman 10.”
Well, we can do better than an ice cream machine, don’t you think, even if the refills stretch on to infinity. How about a sinfully rich Mississippi Mud Pie? One slice of this chocolate ode to decadence is all you’ll need. Trust me.
Mississippi Mud Pie
This pie is made to look like the cracked, dry banks of the Mississippi river. Use a chocolate or vanilla cookie crust, or a graham cracker crust, to make this Mississippi mud pie.
- 1/4 lb. butter, 1 stick
- 2 (1 oz. each) squares unsweetened chocolate
- 3 eggs
- 3 tablespoons white corn syrup
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 9 inch graham cracker, chocolate or vanilla wafer pie shell
In a saucepan, heat butter and chocolate, stirring often, until melted and well blended. Beat eggs; stir in the corn syrup, sugar and vanilla. Add the chocolate mixture to egg and sugar mixture, stirring well. Preheat oven to 350°. Pour filling into prepared pie shell. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until top is slightly crunchy and filling is set.
Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or dollop of whipped cream.
Recipe Source: About.com