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There is little worse in the world of mainstream film than movies designed to "inspire" or "uplift" through cheesy clichéd tropes of some poor jerk rising above the impossible through sheer pluck and magical, hidden talents.
Moreover, when those stories also involve a white woman helping a minority individual to discover this hidden worth inside themselves by getting them off "the streets" and showing them what books are, it's usually not just bad entertainment, it's also offensive, condescending and harmful. Judging by the atrocious Blind Side trailers, I thought I was in for the worst of both those worlds, but, and I can't believe I'm saying this, it's smarter and more self-aware than that, and honestly, not that bad of a movie.
To be fair, it's helped by the fact that it can defend some of its clichés by many of them being based on real people and events (the movie's based on the true story of Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Michael Oher, in case you hadn't heard). Were this a fictional story, I'd surely complain about a young black man being "saved" by a series of rich white ladies and their Christianity -- and there is a lot of that going on in the movie, at every turn -- but that actually happened, so it's not like they're trying to make some racist statement here by inventing that.
The plot is pretty straightforward. A homeless, parent-less, barely literate teen, "Big Mike," is taken in by a wealthy Memphis family one night when walking down a freezing road without a jacket (their son recognizes him from school), and they take a liking to him and he ends up staying for a long time and being adopted by them. They also teach him how to play football, and being that he is enormous, he ends up being a pretty great tackle, and is eventually recruited by a bunch of great football colleges. In order to make the 2.0 GPA necessary for college admission, Michael's adoptive mother Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock) gets him a feisty Southern (but liberal? There's all this Republicans vs. Democrats humor bouncing around in her scenes for some reason) tutor (Kathy Bates), and he struggles and studies hard and gets his grades up and, as we know, gets to go to college, and eventually gets to play in the NFL.
Now, all of that, on paper, sounds like awfully well-worn territory. And though the film does fall into those traps at times (there's a line from the trailer where a bunch of Leigh Anne's snobby rich girlfriends commend her for changing Mike's life, and Leigh Anne gets all teary and proud and says "No. He's changing mine." I want to shoot that line in the face.), it actually shies away from a lot of that groan-worthy convention overall. Michael doesn't become an amazing football player overnight. He has training scenes, not montages.
He gets his grades up by working his ass off and getting C's, and really only learns to express himself in English class in the most basic ways possible; he's not a scholar by the end. And though Leigh Anne says Michael's changing her life, there isn't any corny the-homeless-kid-teaches-the-family-how-to-love, and vice versa, in the film.
The family is in great shape when Michael comes into their lives, and Michael already knows how to be a good person coming in; he just needs to learn how to read and figure out a career trajectory, and they simply help him with that because they think he's worth their time and kindness. I don't know how it's possible, but the movie's kind of nice, and somehow believable, that way.
And it doesn't hurt that I'm a huge unabashed Sandra Bullock fan, and that Tim McGraw is one of my biggest guilty pleasures (he plays Bullock's husband, and he's just adorable), and that they somehow found a precocious little boy to play their son who is actually funny and didn't make me want to claw my eyes out, but this movie is more than a Hallmark film. I can't say I'd ever go out of my way to watch it again, but I have no ill will towards it, and considering the trailer and plot, that is a true testament to the direction and performances. Take your mom to see it -- it may be your last chance at a heartwarming story that won't make you barf for a while.
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