On Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side

Trying to come to terms with Sandra Bullock’s likely Oscar win, I cleared aside a fat portion of yesterday to have a look, once and for all, at The Blind Side.

Right off the bat, I should say that Bullock clearly understands her part. Though light comedy is her forte, she resists every impulse to needle her way through Leigh Anne Tuohy’s rich, suburban existence, and shows instead a kind of Mary Poppins-ish stiff upper lip, spouting ready-made aphorisms with a cheeky Memphis twang. Her gait is brisk, her delivery clipped, and her face – tighter than ever – tells of a compulsive personality driven by down-to-the-follicle precision. She steps to the edge of camp and turns back:  Tuohy is the sort of lady-who-lunches Truman Capote would have loved, and after a few drinks, the sort Tennessee Williams would have sent shrieking into the night. (Close your eyes and you could see, in another version of The Blind Side, Lee Anne sitting on a porch swathed in moonlight, her negligee torn to shreds.) But Bullock, to her credit, doesn’t go there.

Unfortunately, her director, John Lee Hancock, doesn’t help her any. Without much by way of emotional variation, or choice pieces of business to help refine her characterization, Bullock is left alone to draw from a limited reserve. She comes out okay in the end, but with added attention from Hancock, her Leigh Anne might have trounced the limitations of the material (“You can do it, Mike!”) and perhaps even become her best performance to date, which is still Speed.

Hancock should have had another look at Speed. It might have clued him into a few of Bullock’s strengths, like, for instance, how good she can be when she doesn’t have to mind her manners. You want Sandra Bullock to let her hair down – that’s why all of her romantic heroines either start out prude, or overworked and prude. But when she stays tight, as credible as that tight may be, some of her trademark capriciousness is lost. The Blind Side‘s many “meaningful” speeches only make it harder on her.

Still, she’ll probably win. The Academy, after all, loves a converted comedian (“Look how serious she is! Now that’s acting!”) But a converted tragedian is something else entirely. Just look at Meryl. If only she made The Devil Wears Prada before Sophie’s Choice.

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