As the unforgettable theme song goes, it takes Diff’rent Strokes to move the world. Maybe so, but any tale that takes impoverished black teenagers into the bosom of a well-to-do white family comes with an in-built cringe factor.
So where this adaptation of Michael Lewis’s semi-biography The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game fits between bulked-up TV movie and Oscar-worthy drama is very much in the eye of the beholder.
Driving home with her family, no-nonsense Memphis belle Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock) stops to rescue a big, shy, baleful-looking puppy (Aaron) from the pouring rain.
His name is ‘Big Mike’, and he’s a classmate of her daughter Collins (played by Lily ‘daughter of Phil’ Collins). Abandoned long ago by his mother, Big Mike has no place to go.
Leigh Anne and her li’l boy Sean Jr (Jae Head) want to keep him. And, saint that he is, husband Sean (McGraw) has no objections. So before you can say “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?”, Michael - as he prefers - becomes part of the Tuohy clan.
His files show that while he’s no genius, Michael is in the 98th percentile for “protective instincts”. Which puts Leigh Anne in the 100th percentile for “maternal instincts” and writer-director Hancock in the 101th percentile for “metaphorical instincts”.
You see, Michael’s sensitivities and size make him the perfect ‘left tackle’ (that’s the guy who keeps the quarterback from being pulverised by defenders). But when his coach struggles to explain the job in playbook terms, in steps Leigh Anne to say it’s just like protecting his family.
Helpfully, she already explained the role to us at the film’s beginning, over wince-making footage of the moment NY Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor put a new joint into Redskins quarterback Joe Thiesmann’s shin.
How the stories fit together is told in Lewis’s book, though as it was published in 2006, it doesn’t cover Oher’s rise to NFL glory with the Baltimore Ravens (he’s a right tackle now, but presumably quarterbacks have two blind sides).
Anyway, it’s a remarkable real-life example of luck and human kindness. But inspirational? To whom?
Chance would be a fine thing if we all had a generous sponsor to nurture our talent and fund our dreams. Unfortunately, the streets aren’t exactly swarming with wealthy do-gooders.
The reality is that Oher’s story is one in a million. And from earnest teachers and kindly coaches to his personal tutor Miss Sue (Bates), it seems he owes it all to ‘Team White’. Ever heard of the term 'condescending'?
So for all its outwardly good intentions, it’s less of an inspiration to all than an exercise in making God-fearing, liberal-minded, middle-class Americans feel good about themselves.
Its determination to sanitise any potential unpleasantness bears this out.
Altercations with shallow friends, beer-swilling rednecks and bad boyz from the hood are settled with surprisingly little fuss (and even less cussing), while gossip arising from Michael sleeping under the same roof as Collins is neatly folded away like a pair of pyjamas.
Still, wholesome or holier-than-thou, $250m at the US box office suggests that someone got something right. An Oscar for Best Actress suggests what that something might be.
Crowned the day after picking up a Razzie for the unforgivable All About Steve, Bullock has pulled a blinder herself. It’s a doughty performance, and worth singling out.
But without her, The Blind Side would undoubtedly be met with the same indifference as every other American sports movie on these shores. And ultimately, it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about.