Poor Sandra Bullock would be wise to take refuge in Austin — her home, of sorts — amid the maddening mess created by her straying husband in California, for which there would be a certain agreeable synchronicity. Aside from one Lone Star fiasco (a builder botched Bullock’s first big Austin home), Austin has been good to her, and so has Texas. That includes Texas-born filmmaker John Lee Hancock, who wrote and directed Bullock’s Oscar winning turn in The Blind Side.
Ol’ John Lee somehow learned more at Baylor Law School than mass torts and cross-exams. He’s a filmmaker with intelligence and heart, and that heart’s in the right place, whether he’s extolling an aging baseball player in The Rookie (thanks again for the on-set visit in Thorndale, John Lee) or trying to do justice to Texas’ huge history in The Alamo (and for the press junket interview in San Antonio).
As a Texan, Hancock knows football — knows it too much, in a way. The Blind Side begins as a stirringly humanistic drama about a wealthy Memphis family (with Bullock as its spunky, fiercely determined matriarch and Tim McGraw as her patient, nice-guy husband) taking in a luckless, homeless, quiet and physically gifted African American teen (Quinton Aaron). It turns out he has huge potential as a football player, and that helps turn his life around.
This abrupt change for them all is shown with warmth and affection. Call it an exercise in white guilt if you must, but it works. Yet toward the end the film changes. It becomes so engrossed in cameo name-dropping of various real-life football coaches (or ex-coaches), and the questionable impact of in-game footage, that it fumbles the ball of heroic family loyalty and protectiveness, which is what it’s really about.
In short, the football angles, like our young hero, become a bit outsized, when all we needed was a personal, moving story about the durability and generosity of the human spirit.
Still, The Blind Side is richly entertaining, and — thankfully — never an out-and-out tearjerker. And Bullock is like a force of nature as the no-nonsense mom — and adoptive momma — who holds the family together.
Sure, it all seems too good to be true at times, but after all, it’s based on a true story, so hold your horses.
Conventional yet compelling, The Blind Side is the kind of uplifting family film we rarely see these days. And I’m grateful that Bullock’s Oscar win draws even more attention to it now that it’s on DVD, after a rousing theatrical run that grossed $250 million. Time for another end-zone celebration for a job well done.