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Ann Hornaday movie reviews: 'Precious,' 'Blind Side'

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In this drama, based on the novel "Push" by Sapphire, a pregnant Harlem teen (Gabourey 'Gabby' Sidibe) attempts to escape from her abusive mother and build a new life.

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I didn't want to like "The Blind Side," and if you're familiar with the trailer campaign, you'll know why. The movie, which opens next week, stars Sandra Bullock as wealthy Memphis homemaker and interior designer who adopts a homeless African American teenager and becomes his fiercest advocate. The trailers featured nearly every hoary stereotype that vex so many movies about interracial relationships: The teenager, a 6-foot, 300-pound football player, is a quiet, gentle giant; as the grateful recipient of white largess, he spiritually transforms his benefactor (known as the "magical Negro" phenomenon). There's even a scene featuring Hollywood's most recent noxious caricature, the low-level government bureaucrat, who is invariably surly, female and African American.

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It turns out that "The Blind Side" is much better than its ad campaign suggests, largely because it's based on the inspiring true story of Michael Oher and Leigh Ann Tuohy. Grounded in the direct, disarming truth of their experience, the movie has a straightforward lack of cheap sentiment that saves it from being either too maudlin or saccharine-sweet.

Especially in the film's soaring, triumphant final moments, viewers get the sense that this isn't a story about race or redemption or the complexities of class and culture. It's a story about a person who witnesses need and responds, simply and honestly, with unfussy compassion and authenticity. It's a story about family.

Yet, while it's possible to be enormously entertained and moved by "The Blind Side," it's also possible to harbor a twinge of misgiving. Depending on your lens, it either celebrates the colorblind society America should aspire to, or neatly elides issues about race and class that are so often distorted or ignored. Probably wisely, director John Lee Hancock has chosen to let the story tell itself, leaving it to viewers to sort out any deeper philosophical questions on their own.

Still, a faint air of self-congratulation suffuses "The Blind Side" -- which goes, I think, to the deeper question of point of view. And that nuance can be brought home by seeing it back-to-back with "Precious." Like Precious Jones, Mike Oher is a big, largely passive character, who finds himself with the help of caring adults. Like "Precious," "The Blind Side" offers stirring testament to the power of education to transform a life foreshortened by poverty and apathy. And yet, unlike "Precious," in which viewers hear the story of a young woman fighting for herself in her own words, from behind her own eyes, in "The Blind Side" Oher remains a cipher: silent, impassive, voiceless.

It's easy to see why Hancock chose to tell the story from Leigh Ann's point of view: Oher's a quiet guy, after all, and she's an irresistible dynamo of spiky, steel-magnolia tenacity. But the choice still speaks to the crucial importance of perspective in the movies, and the subtle power of who does the talking.

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

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(109 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for child abuse, including sexual assault, and pervasive profanity.

The Blind Side

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(126 minutes, arrives at area theaters Nov. 20) is rated PG-13 for brief violence, drugs and sexual references.


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