When the story carries the ball

By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 20, 2009

There's been something off-putting about the ad campaign for "The Blind Side," a drama about a white woman who adopts an African American high school student, from trailers trafficking in nearly every troubling African American stereotype in movies (from the Magical Negro to the surly low-level bureaucrat), to posters featuring the patronizing image of Sandra Bullock gently leading her looming, gentle giant of a son down a football field.

It turns out that "The Blind Side" is much better than its ads, largely because it's based on the true story of Michael Oher and Leigh Anne 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. Bullock, making a comic-dramatic play for "Erin Brockovich" territory, is perfectly suited to play the tart, no-nonsense Leigh Anne, who, when she sees Oher (Quinton Aaron) walking alone on a cold, rainy Memphis night, spontaneously invites him to stay with her family.

What ensues is the kind of entertaining uplift Hollywood does best, its dramatic elements leavened by frequent moments of comedy (mostly at the hands of Leigh Anne's precocious youngest son, played by Jae Head) and stirring sports sequences. If viewers may experience a twinge of misgiving about the issues of race and class that are elided in "The Blind Side," they can't help but be enormously entertained and moved by its irresistible story. 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 the authentic, compassionate response to vulnerability and need. It's a story about family.

*** PG-13. At area theaters. Contains one scene involving brief violence, and drug and sexual references. 126 minutes.

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