Every so often, American pop culture coughs up a family that’s too good to be true — and, of course, it’s that very too-goodness that makes them irresistible to audiences (or is supposed to, at any rate). In the ’70s, we had the wholesome double whammy of the Waltons and the Bradys, and in the ’90s the compulsively charitable clan of 7th Heaven. More recently, the Duggars on 18 Kids and Counting have nudged that squeaky-clean homespun virtue into the reality TV era. According to The Blind Side, you can now add another family to the list: the Tuohys. That would be blond, tart-tongued, and down-home saintly Leigh Anne, played by Sandra Bullock, trying a middle-American-mom role on for size (and finding the fit comfortably snug); her husband, Sean, played by country superstar Tim McGraw as a benign domestic yes-man who is never more happy than when he’s kowtowing to his wife; and their picture-perfect neo-’50s kids, beautiful teen achiever Collins (Lily Collins) and toothy scamp SJ (Jae Head). A glowing, prosperous bunch who live in one of the tonier sections of Memphis (Leigh Anne wears a six-studded diamond crucifix that looks like it must be worth $100,000), the Tuohys are all about sweetness and light, along with a spoonful of sass to help the sugar go down.
The day before Thanksgiving, they’re driving along in their oversize car when they spot one of Collins’ classmates at the Christian Wingate School. His name is Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), and he’s 17, doughy and tall, and appears every inch the lost, lonely, and homeless young fellow he is. Leigh Anne, as impulsive as she is good, doesn’t waste a moment before asking him over to the Tuohy home, where they put him up for the night. He stays for Thanksgiving, when they all clasp hands to say grace, and before long he’s been invited to live with the Tuohys and become part of their family. He trades in his worn gray clothes for a series of colorful striped rugby shirts, which is how we know that his mood is brightening.
Michael, known as Big Mike, is a refugee from the projects, and he’s been wedged into the Wingate School by a football coach who sees his potential as a Mack truck of a lineman. But he can barely read, and doesn’t have much inclination to talk. Aaron, who plays him, has an appealing gentle-giant presence. Since Michael rarely says more than a few words at a time, you keep scanning his kind, sad eyes and hesitant manner for a hint of what he’s about, and also to see how, exactly, he’s going to mesh with this family that’s embraced him as an act of charity, adventure, and brotherly love. As The Blind Side presents it, however, there isn’t a lot to Michael. He shows no interest in girls or friends or videogames or TV shows. Even compared with the superficially similar lost girl in Precious, he never asserts himself or asks for anything. He just hangs out, like a fifth family member who’s also a kind of mascot. The three kids get along great — at one point Mike and SJ do a duet on ”Bust a Move,” which is about as exciting as things get — and there’s never a hint of tension, or of finely woven camaraderie, among them.
Written and directed by John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), The Blind Side is a feel-good movie that never stops feeling good. The film is based on a true story (it was adapted from a nonfiction best-seller by Michael Lewis), but you never feel that Hancock has honestly captured what’s true about it. He’s so devoted to showing us what upbeat, selfless folks Leigh Anne and her family are that the movie never quite gets around to discovering what any of those far superior saintly-family TV shows surely would have: a dramatic conflict. Not that there aren’t, you know, plot points. Will Michael manage to get his grades up? Will he make it on the football team? And how will he handle those college recruiters? In theory, it’s fascinating to see Bullock harness her considerable appeal to the role of a ? Republican Christian housewife who’s a card-carrying member of the NRA. Yet what The Blind Side offers is a kind of liberal Hollywood version of conservative values: all rock-solid valor, all the time. The result isn’t solid at all — it’s more like cotton-candy uplift. C