Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Yes, Really with Wilde.Dash #7.5: The Blind Side

It was the beginning of April when I promised a tirade on Oscar decorated The Blind Side. Then, I wrote a big puff and stuff load of bitterness against Twilight  and became exhausted and sidetracked.   Guys: ranting and raving is hard.  Maybe before we talk about this we should all chill out and watch the Insane Clown Posse dig on some "Miracles".  Fucking magnets, man, how do they work?  Or, better question: The Blind Side, how the hell did that get nominated for a Best Picture Oscar?  What kind of peace and love and kittens and nice things cigaweed was the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences smoking with the ICP when both of these things were created?  If you haven't watched the football fable yet, stop now...there will be spoilers.

Guys, I'm not going to lie, part of me gets offended when there's almost no dramatic tension in a movie.  Maybe this stems from literary elitism and the overzealous focusing on story development that comes from graduate theory, but my god, I really have a hard time believing and processing movies where almost everyone is just wonderful and the outcome is peachy keen. I become even more enraged when whatever it is that has no dramatic tension is also "based on a true story."  Mostly because, if it was an interesting enough story to base a film on, there's probably some tension, but also, the truth is mostly unfun.  There. I said it.  James Frey had the right idea (it doesn't matter if Oprah said he didn't): if you're producing a life story for public consumption, there are places where the facts can and should be tweaked in the retelling.  That's entertainment.  I honestly don't care if you don't agree.  You lack imagination.  With The Blind Side what we have is a film so perfectly balanced on the feelgood beam it actually becomes an exercise in tedium.  Here's what you know about the film:  big African-American kid is basically abandoned, gets taken in by a mouthy white lady, becomes a football superstar.  Naturally, if all you were working off of were the trailers and preconceptions based on hundreds of other pop cultural examples, you'd assume there was some conflict.  Maybe the other family members aren't so happy.  Maybe the kid has some issues.  Maybe the mouthy white lady is crazy.  Maybe everyone has to work together to pool money and support this kid's endeavors.  Wrong wrong wrong. 
Here's the real story: Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron) is a big, quiet kid who's been sleeping in the high school gym.  He's a misfit, and doesn't do well in school because the teachers just don't know how to work with him.  Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) is a prissy Southern belle who always gets her way and who owns like 84 franchise Taco Bells or something absurd like that.  She picks the kid up off the street, sets him up in a room in her mansion, buys him his first bed ever, and learns that he's basically the nicest kid on the planet and her own kids think he's fan-fricken-tastic. These are the miracles the ICP speaks of.  I mean, that's damn  miraculous any way you slice it.  On the one hand, Michael Oher won the jackpot of foster families.  On the other, Tuohy scored the best late-in-life adopted spawn in the history of Earth.  Amazing.  Now you're thinking....oh, but he was on the street!  There's the drama!  He's got a history, a back story.  Look, he's a teenager, he has a past in foster care and a cracked out mother somewhere in the slums!  Yes.  All of this is true.  The thing is: the film skirts around the unpleasant past and reduces the drama to zilch. Zero.  They're not interested in him.  They're way more interested in her.  We get little tidbits, but they pale in comparison to the scenes of the big game or the Tuohy snarkfest.  We should have gotten the film from Michael's perspective.  He's the man with the history.  He's the one experiencing something remarkable.  Instead, we get a valorization of the wealthy Tuohy's, an elaboration on what Michael did for them, and just the teeniest pieces of Michael's life and perspective.  We meet his mother, and we quickly forget her.  At one point there's even a car accident.  But, within about two minutes, we're made aware that "no, it's cool...everyone is alright."   Bland.  Just....bland.  This is the sort of human interest piece that catches America's attention on a slow news day.  It's lovely and is all very nice, but ultimately, the movie feels a little empty.  I'm not saying I want everything to be doom and gloom with a tornado headed straight for the middle school in the final seconds, but I mean...I have expectations when it comes to what qualifies as an award worthy, potentially groundbreaking work of cinema.  The Blind Side is so not it.  Here's what I believe: if you think The Blind Side is high art, congratulations: your idea of a good movie is the schlock they show 24- hours a day on the Lifetime Movie Network.  Buy a textbook.  Go to a museum.  Watch 100 randomly selected films pre-1980 in the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.  Then, tell me this movie was worth being mentioned in the same sentence as those little gold statuettes.
On my Facebook feed several weeks ago, I noticed a conversation going on in which one person said they cried through the full runtime of The Blind Side and a half dozen other people immediately 'liked' and agreed with the sentiment, swapping their own teary stories.  Honestly?  What the hell is wrong with you people?  Did you not watch any other films this year that The Blind Side became the film with the most impact?  If you cried during The Blind Side and loved it, then guess what?  The Best Picture category alone offers up several more examples of 2009 films that dug deeper.  1. The Hurt Locker.  I mean, really.  2. Avatar's saptastic love story and environmental damage.  3. District 9: Apartheid aliens, scary racial criticism and heart wrenching family tragedy.  4. Precious: She wishes she were Michael Oher.  5. Up: that montage in the first 15 minutes is like an atom bomb of depressing.   The Blind Side?  Next to the destruction of home planets, war-torn nations, deceased spouses, concentration camps and sexual abuse by a parent, that's a cakewalk.  It's a non-issue. 

I'm not saying that a display of pathos is necessary for a moving, worthwhile cinematic experience.  What I'm saying is essentially that all The Blind Side has to offer as a film is being a nice, big screen version of an after school Hallmark channel special.  A half full glass of the milk of human kindness does not a piece of film art make.  That sentence was weird and convoluted, but maybe you know what I'm getting at as I continue to allow this rant to spiral out of focus and control.  What does The Blind Side offer us as a work of cinema?  Is it filmed well?  No. Is it imaginative? No.  Is it escapist? No.  Does it show us something we can't experience? No. Does it have a smart script? No.  Does it have well-crafted, 3-dimensional characters?  No.  It doesn't.  It has a perfectly nice teenage boy, and a mouthy, smart-alecky Southern lady played out like a pageant mom with a heart of gold by Ms. Bullock.  There's nothing wrong with Bullock's portrayal of Leigh Anne just as there's nothing technically wrong with the film itself.  The problem, for me, comes when the world starts fawning over a performance where there's nothing wrong, but nothing stand-out either.  I like Sandra Bullock, but I'd be lying if  I called her performance in this film anything other than adequate.  Is it her fault?  No.  She does what she can.  The thing is, there's nothing in the film that allows her to push past mediocrity and dig into something deeper within her character.  This is a surface performance.  It's not impressive, it's just there.  If I were an actress, I would never feel threatened or inspired after watching this.  The fact that The Blind Side, and Bullock's role in it are now sort of canonized in our pop cultural memory banks is alarming and reflective of our state as a culture.  We're too depressed and recessed.  As soon as something mediocre comes along that makes us feel alright about life, we think it's the best thing ever.  God, I feel like I'm spouting a bunch of Ayn Rand influenced nonsense, but you've noticed, right?  That's how Slumdog Millionaire won the crown for 2008, isn't it?  We all know that's not really a fantastic film, just an entertaining diversion (at least it has dramatic tension).  Come on, admit it, I bet that as you read this you realized you'd already forgotten it. 
If The Blind Side had just existed, that is, if it had existed without being a dominant presence in award season, I would have allowed it to pass gently into the night.  It's a perfectly decent little film, as I've stated already.  There's nothing horribly wrong with it, it's just the sort of movie you watch, finish, think 'well wasn't that just lovely', have a cup of tea, and then move on with your life.  I don't hate it.  I just object to the praise.  Why?  Because I'm here to judge your taste levels and I'm just damn sick of the dumbing down of culture and our oversensitivity to everything.  Deal with it.  Watch the tough stuff. Watch the weird foreign stuff you 'don't get'.  Experience something outside your comfort zone.  Quit your whining and man up.  That's what Leigh Anne Tuohy would tell you right before she took you shirt shopping, and damnit, that's what I'm telling you too.  Boring, boring, boring.

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