Movie reviews: The Blind Side and Precious

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

From the outside looking in, it seems like a weird week to be a black moviegoer. On the one hand, two stories of redemption centering on African-American youths - Blind Side and Precious - will make their marks on the box office this weekend. On the other, in different but dovetailing ways, neither paints a pretty picture of the community.

In Blind Side, romantic-comedy vet Sandra Bullock tries to use her perkiness for more noble pursuits, a dramatization of a real-life inspirational tale. She plays Leigh Anne Touhy, a rich Tennessee housewife who took abandoned black teen Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a schoolmate of her two kids, into the family home and guided him to scholastic achievement and a career in the NFL.

Virtually all of the white characters in the film are old-school Southern crackers who warn Leigh Anne against leaving Michael alone with her daughter or keep their interest in the boy limited to his athletic abilities. The exception is the saintly Touhy clan, which writer-director John Lee Hancock illustrates in a scene in which we're supposed to feel awe that one of them is unafraid to hold Michael's hand.

All of them get off easy compared to the black characters. Aside from Michael, who's less explored as a person than exploited as a symbol, they're mainly drug dealers and crackheads who have passels of kids for others to raise.

Blind Side's startlingly regressive viewpoint seems a product of laziness and ignorance. Director Lee Daniels' Precious, conversely, uses stereotypes and ugliness to create an atmosphere of soul-crushing squalor, a place from which his Cinderella sister must escape.

Set in 1987 and based on Sapphire's bestseller, Precious shares its name with the main character (Gabourey Sidibe), an obese, illiterate 16-year-old pregnant with her second child from her incestuous father. Her mother Mary (Mo'Nique) sees Precious not as a victim, but as a rival, unleashing heaps of verbal abuse with the same dexterity she displays hurling handy objects at Precious' head.

Though Precious finds new friends and hope at an alternative school, Daniels maintains throughout the film an approach in keeping with her parents' way of doing things - all raw, brute, instinct-driven force. The rare moments of artfulness create such contrast, they can feel as much like a slap as the worst of the story's horrors.

Intentions, and the rare opportunity for an actress who looks like Sidibe to take the lead, don't entirely redeem Daniels' tactics. It's a good thing Sidibe and Oscar nominee-to-be Mo'Nique have his back. Amid scenes of welfare fraud, parental rape and a stolen bucket of fried chicken, they craft genuine, complex characters, and performances to be proud of.

"Blind Side"

Grade: D


Grade: B-