Surely the most odious phrase in movie marketing is "Based on a True Story." These are the magic words with which Michael Oher, a rags-to-riches NFL draftee, becomes an excuse for Sandra Bullock to play his adoptive mother as Memphis' most generous, least racist housewife. She kicks off her new film, The Blind Side, with a football commentary on the strategic importance of Oher's tackle position. Narrating in a Southern accent, she makes Oher's vocation sound positively divine. If there was more to this story than a white woman's ego, Hollywood begs to differ.
Sandra Bullock is Hollywood. In 1994, she boarded a bus, hijacked our hearts, and hasn't stopped hitting things since. From Speed to Miss Congeniality, she's proven herself the last actress with marquee appeal minus special effects, but only by choosing roles that flatter her own class at the expense of everyone else. This summer, her self-produced engagement comedy, The Proposal, cast her as an uptight New York publisher falling for Ryan Reynolds and his family of rich Alaskan crudes. Then came another self-produced vehicle, All About Steve, a hilariously incompetent ode to American egomania, as confused with eccentricity.
Now Bullock continues her well-intentioned Masque of the Red States in The Blind Side. She tries on a Tennessee twang to play Leigh Anne Tuohy: a Christian, Republican and former Ole Miss cheerleader who took a huge, poor black boy into her home and groomed him for football stardom. Football stardom at her alma mater, as it turned out. That conflict of interest is one of many the movie swiftly smooths over in worshipping the Tuohys' color-blind Christian largesse. Charity, it seems, is next to vanity.
Bullock turns on the charm, as do country singer Tim McGraw playing her husband and Quinton Aaron playing Michael Oher himself, a gentle giant finding his voice. Filmmaker John Lee Hancock avoids maudlin excess, plodding agreeably along in the blandest biopic tradition. Our pistol-packin' mama spurns the antiquated racism of her friends, and waits for Michael's college recruitment offers to pour in. Welcome to The Blind Side, where there's plenty of prideful tough love, but not a single motherly hug until Michael finally touches down at Ole Miss. Meanwhile, hints of the plantation are hard to ignore: The high-school athlete is compared to a children's book character—"Ferdinand the Bull"—and bringing him home gives the lady of the house a bedtime thrill, like a marital aid. "Is this some kind of white guilt thing?" Bullock is asked, and remembering her participation in Crash, the answer is obvious. PG-13.
opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Cinema 99, Cinetopia, City Center, Cornelius, Evergreen, Lloyd Center, Lloyd Mall, Oak Grove, Sandy, Sherwood, Tigard and Wilsonville.