What possessed me to watch another Sandra Bullock film this year after suffering the atrocities of The Proposal? Maybe it was the resounding cry by critics of how remarkably not bad it was or the promise of more white guilt. Actually, scratch that. I got enough white guilt shoved down my throat with Avatar for both this and the next decade. It certainly wasn’t the allure of football. Maybe it was because I needed some good old human melodrama and a reminder that Sandra Bullock can act.
In yet another heartwarming tale based on a true story a highly privileged white Christian family takes in Big Mike (Quinton Aaron), the school’s large black attendee who wanders around homeless after school hours. It’s Leigh’s (Sandra Bullock) idea to take the wanderer into the Tuohy family. What starts as just one night ends up being more permanent when Michel is given a room of his own and the family begins to help improve his school situation. Collins (Lily Collins), the daughter, helps him out with school while the young S.J. (Je Head) takes it upon himself to be Michel’s personal trainer for football. Even Sean (Tim McGraw), the father, is pitching in by the end as the family tries to get Michael’s grades good enough to get into a university.
The film sidesteps a lot of the pratfalls that could easily be the downfall of the film. First off, thank God almighty and all the heavens, this is not a film about football. The beginning is a long-winded monologue on the tactics of football which easily could have set this up as a sports picture with a spice of human drama. Instead, the film keeps the football stuff to a minimum as it is just a backdrop to the story. It’s much more interested in focusing on the drama of the people.
And the film could have been another manipulative tear-jerker filled with overproduced moments of people in saddened looks and a swelling dramatic score. Surprisingly a lot of the more moving moments play without a note of music and let the performances and the actions speak for themselves instead manufacturing a desired emotional effect. You might not cry, but at least if you do it won’t be because of the typical crass manipulations of Hollywood.
The film is also decidedly dark at a number of times. There’s no color blind illusion or qualms about coming out and facing the facts of what it means to have a colored man in this family. Some of the accusations are ballsy and offensive but the film doesn’t try to shove them under the mat. Some have said the film is far too safe and cute by setting itself in a white family’s home but that’s what the story is about. The film isn’t so much about Michael as it is about how his presence changes the white family. If you don’t like the story fine, but don’t criticize it for not being something it never was meant to be.
In fact, by sidestepping some of the more grizzly elements of the black culture the film has a number of beautiful moments that would have been lost in the mire. Leigh’s lecture to Michael on his role on the football team, Sean’s explanation on The Charge of the Light Brigade and Michael’s final essay all present these beautiful human moments that Michael is able to experience through the generosity of this family.
But for all the pitfalls it gracefully sidesteps the film lands into a massive crater. I hate, hate, hate both the beginning and end of this film. Why does Hollywood use voiceovers? Why? It’s the most boring, insulting and crass way to convey what the character is feeling and often times it’s redundant. I can appreciate it with Michael’s essay but in both the beginning and end it’s horribly bad and unnecessary. The end in particular left me on the worst possible note and frustrated me endlessly as the scene before was a beautiful place to end the film.
But even then I have to admit this is one of the better offerings from Hollywood this year. It may not have the gut wrenching human drama of many other films this year but it is one of the most true, beautiful and charming films I’ve seen this year. It will make you feel better about the human race in a year that seemed to be filled with films telling us how awful we are for being such a destructive, selfish race of people. And it does it all without smacking of all the glittery distractions of the system. Not sure how Hollywood got blinded by this picture but I’m happy it did.
© 2010 James Blake Ewing