Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Michael Lewis' book gets Bullockized, and that's OK

There probably is an essay to be had about how Hollywood killed the football movie.

In the here and now, today's take-home is there are two ways to try to adapt a Michael Lewis book that's ostensibly about sports. Try to hit a film geek home run and risk having it get stuck in development hell such as with the Moneyball movie, or switching to football metaphors, run it up the middle by turning into a Sandra Bullock movie.

Honestly, now that the trailer for The Blind Side is out, it's reminiscent of when Peter Griffin completely sabotaged a production of The King and I and Lois admits, "Anyone who can get that from that deserves credit." In short, holy doodle:

The Blind Side is due in theatres in November.

It has the same director as The Rookie, the Disneyfied based-on-a-true-story baseball movie where Dennis Quaid played Jim Morris, the high school science teacher who made a comeback in his mid-30s and actually pitched for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Lewis' 2006 The Blind Side, which touched on pretty much everything about contemporary America such as race, jock culture, Christian materialism and the growing gap between rich and poor. It was all done by relating how Michael Oher, who is African American, was taken in by a rich, white family headed by a power couple, Leigh Ann and Sean Tuohy.

The naturally dark-haired, dark-eyed Bullock plays blond, blue-eyed Leigh Ann Tuohy, since they have an uncanny resemblance.

Lewis' choice to ae it a biography of the NFL's emphasis on the left tackle position was more of an entry point to draw in the thinking sports fan, so-called, whose ego needs to believe that they have a social conscience. It was a remarkable story long before Oher matured into a first-round NFL draft choice.

Lewis' books are always a kind of theatre of the mind.

It would be a fair stretch to say the same about a Sandra Bullock vehicle. She is on a personal Hollywood no-fly list — as in if he/she is in it, it doesn't fly — that includes but is not limited to Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Nicolas Cage, Reese Witherspoon, Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Katherine Heigl and Tom Cruise. They're all wonderful, talented people whose movies should be avoided for the same reason you stopped eating McDonald's, part because of the caloric content but more due to the lack of surprises.

All the trailer is missing is a scene where Sandra/Leigh Ann breaks the fourth wall and demands the Oscar nom.

Meantime, this is probably a topic for Bill Simmons and the other officially approved icons of irreverence, but this might be a nail in the coffin for the football movie. You can probably pinpoint it to Washington's Remember The Titans. Maybe it started with Cruise in Jerry Maguire, but the mould changed. Every football movie now has to follow the same template. Cast a bankable star, put her/him into a situation that needs fixing, have the a-ha! moment where the players all decide to buy in and bend to authority, make sure it ends on an upbeat message, and stir. A couple who just wants a night out and something they will not hate too much, they will go see a movie which has Sandra Bullock and football.

Of course, making it more about a coach or mentor figure means it can't be about the player, which is a shame. The role of a lifetime in a football movie, playing Jim Brown in a biopic, is going begging for some young African American actor.

Instead, take it away, Every Day Should Be Saturday ...
"We’ve got another white-woman-saves-poor-aimless-black-people story on our hands. You could, if you were so inclined, condense The Blind Side down to that very cursory description, and to some extent film adaptations can only ever be stripped-down, USA Today versions of the books on which they’re based, but still, The Blind Side was so much deeper and more complex than that. We could’ve gotten at least an attempt at translating that complexity to the screen, but instead it looks like what we’re going to get is a lot more along the lines of Sandra Bullock being, in the words of Jack Donaghy, 'Michelle Pfeiffer to your angry black kid who learns that poetry is just another way to rap.' "
Of course, left unsaid is that the welfare state just doesn't work, while faith-based charity does.

Meantime, you can't just have a movie where a bunch of wild 'n' crazy guys decide they want to win because while winning isn't everything, it's better than what comes next, like in Varsity Blues. True, that was was just a rip-off of All The Right Moves (smart kid with an ambivalent streak dying to be out of high school and out his small town, forever). At least those two movies had the teenaged protagonist self-defining by standing up to authority, plus there were some gratuitous exposed breasts. If it between Denzel Washington shouting slogans and James Van Der Beek telling off Jon Voight with his Texas accent fading in and out like an AM radio signal, it's the latter, every time.

Point being, don't hold your breath waiting for a good football movie. As good friend and Greg Hughes has pointed out in conversation, the economic crisis in the U.S. probably means we are headed for the most dismal age in American filmmaking since the early 1980s, at least among major studios. Complex fare is too chancy, especially with a sports movie, so a serious treatise of sports gets Bullockized.

The upshot is if it gives Michael Lewis the financial freedom to, oh, write a book about the financial implosion of the National Hockey League or whatever captures his fancy, so be it.

Meantime, maybe the idiot is the one who expected anything otherwise or sets himself up to be "completely disgusted" (Mr. Irrelevant) instead of just accepting What Is. Many people will go see this movie without even knowing about the book. C'est la vie. Maybe it is better to be that guy instead of the one watching North Dallas Forty alone again.

Memphis, we have a problem (Hey Jenny Slater)
‘The Blind Side’ Looks Awful (Chris Mottram, Mr. Irrelevant)
The Blind Side gets its trailer (Chris Littman, First Cuts)


Dennis Prouse said...

I am still hoping this trailer is just a bad dream. They didn't really do THIS to the The Blind Side, did they?

Greg said...

Unfortunately, it is. *sigh*

Neate, I think it's important to point out a few things regarding cinema and economics:

1) The early 1980s recession was pretty brutal on Hollywood, but one trend that does tend to emerge during bad economic times is that a whole lot of cheaper, bad movies get made, while some truly great art is produced in Hollywood at the same time.

2) I suspect we're probably going to see more mid-level partnerships between independent studios and major Hollywood distributors in the coming years when it comes to films. The economics for Hollywood are such that they're going to produce a lot of movies that are DVD and foreign-market friendly (read: bad action films) and probably produce a lot less risk-taking films. It's not surprising The Blind Side was made this way.

Dennis Prouse said...

This recession hasn't been that tough on Hollywood. Box office receipts are actually up, as people find movies to be a relatively cheap escape.

No question that the DVD/overseas market is a huge part of the equation now in Hollywood. One point I have heard is that sports movies tend to do very poorly in the overseas market, which is why they have a hard time getting green lighted in Hollywood. (After the manner in which The Express flopped, it's a wonder any football movie got made immediately afterwards.) Therefore, they have to destroy the story, as they have with The Blind Side, to make the movie more attractive for overseas/DVD sales.