WHEN THE TRULY DREADFUL Sandra Bullock vehicle All About Steve came out earlier this year, I was ready to declare the actress's career utterly over. But it turns out she's found a perfect change of pace from her usual cornball romcoms—in The Blind Side, she plays the frosted, Southern, evangelical MILF Leigh Anne Tuohy. Based on a real person, Bullock is a natural fit for the role of a sassy, wealthy do-gooder in tight white jeans and diamonds who took in a huge, homeless African American teenager after scooping him off the streets of Memphis. That boy, Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), went on to become one of the most sought-after young football players in the country, receiving numerous college scholarships, and now plays professionally for the Baltimore Ravens.
At its heart The Blind Side is a straight-ahead feel-good family movie—but there are aspects of it that'll make you squirm. Leigh Anne and her husband Sean (a kind-eyed and likeable Tim McGraw) are rich off the profits of some 60-odd fast food restaurants, with two sweetheart children—an underwritten and apparently angst-free teenage daughter, Collins (Lily Collins), and an ultra-precocious son, S.J. (Jae Head), who worships Oher and provides most of the film's laughs. While Sean lingers good-naturedly around the film, quietly facilitating his wife's forceful brand of philanthropy, it's Leigh Anne who runs the family and dominates the film: Rarely do more than five minutes elapse without her breaking in with a piece of her mind, telling everybody—from a drug dealer to a racist lady-who-lunches to a high school football coach—what's what, with a cocksure fearlessness typical of someone upon whom fortune has always smiled. (And who carries a gun in her purse.) There's no escaping the cringingly congratulatory, rich-white-folk-bail-out-helpless-black-kid dynamic, but, well, that's just kind of what happened, by all accounts (it's harder to misrepresent people who are still alive). And once you allow yourself to drop the liberal guilt and just like the Tuohys, you're left with a pretty good story.
Born to a drug-addicted mother, Oher spent most of his childhood falling through the cracks, and is portrayed in the film as a timid, gentle giant. Leigh Anne, for all her bluster and bossiness, is to be credited for going against the grain of her social set—even her late father, it is strongly implied, was openly racist. But honestly, The Blind Side is only tangentially about race, just as it is only tangentially about football. At its core, it's a remarkable, unlikely case study of the power of a positive environment to realize a young person's innate potential.