Family Dramedy. The true story of the white southern Touhy Family rescuing and then adopting a tall African American kid that has been abused by the ghetto culture, the government system, and his own family. This is an atypical film coming out of Hollywood because it’s worldview is of middle American traditional values. It portrays the Southern family in a positive light rather than negative stereotype and it champions private charity over government dependency.
Regarding the Southern Christian worldview, the family prays over their Thanksgiving dinner with reference to Jesus Christ, and they make the point of their Christian duty to help the unfortunate. Special attention is drawn to a Scriptural reference (incorrectly quoted) of the high school’s motto: “With man this is possible. With God, all things are possible.” The correct biblical reference is “With man this is IMPOSSIBLE, but with God all things are possible.” Be that as it may, this shows the Christian culture as the driving force of the compassion.
The movie reveals an occasional racist sentiment in a lone jerk, but not in the culture at large. These rich Southerners may be a bit embarrassed and don’t know what to do, but they are not hate mongers. In fact, the movie pokes good fun at both sides of the political spectrum, and portrays racism as an inherent part of the government welfare system and ghetto culture as well. For instance, the tutor for “Big Mike” confesses with fear of reprisal that she is a Democrat. Yet, the family, an obvious Republican Southern family, doesn’t blink an eye. They don’t care, they just want to help Michael. But then the dad says, “Who’d have thought we would adopt a black kid before we met our first Democrat.” Later, when the mom, Leigh Anne (Sandra Bullock) hears her new son Michael is threatened by his old ghetto homeys, she walks proudly up to them and says, “When you threaten my son, you threaten me.” When the gang guy threatens to bring guns and do violence, she retorts that she is a proud member of the NRA, and packs her own heat, and is not afraid. The answer to growing cultural violence here is clearly responsibly armed citizens. The only moment of violence in the movie is ironically, when Big Mike goes back to his ghetto homeys and is tempted to be drawn into their life of crime by the gang leader. But when they threaten Mike’s new white family, he explodes in violence and trashes them all. Why? Because of his love for those who loved him first. Michael’s highest value is to protect others, and so the movie justifies standing with force against those who threaten the family.
The Touhy’s are very wealthy and own multiple Taco restaurants, but they are giving charitable people who in the end care much more for people than for things. Some fun is made of the fact that their fellow lunch going friends are removed rich people who believe in giving some charity, but not “taking it so seriously as to adopt Michael,” but these people are shamed by Leigh Anne’s authentic love.
Regarding the failure of government and institutions, the movie depicts the institutions as being antagonistic to those who help people like “Big Mike.” Movies are not made in a vacuum. And this movie, coming out as it does in the midst of a time of strong appeal to government solutions creates a stark contrast with its reliance of the individual through hard work and personal charity. The government welfare system fails to help Michael, in having him fall through the cracks, his ghetto culture is depicted as failing him by succumbing to drugs, welfare slavery, and personal irresponsibility. Even the NCAA is shown as antagonistic toward helping blacks when it challenges the motives of why the Touhy’s rescued Michael and helped him to go to college, rather than honoring them.
This leads to the major theme of the movie: Family. Michael is loved by the Touhys and he adopts THEM as his family because of their love for him, as opposed to his blood which fails him. Family love transcends race in this story. The family simply loves him and he blossoms despite the government and society being against this notion. Family love wins the day. All along the way, their motives for loving Michael are challenged: They’re just doing it to feel good about themselves, they’re just doing it out of white guilt, they’re just doing it for some kind of financial benefit. But all these theories are dispelled in the face of the simple display of genuine family love. And when the NCAA challenges the Touhy’s motives of guiding Michael toward Ole’ Miss for college because of a ludicrous financial conspiracy, Michael questions his new family, but the parents tell him he can go wherever he wants to go because they love him. Then he CHOOSES Ole’ Miss anyway, because “That’s where my family went.” In this story, family love and private charity is deeper and more redemptive than race, welfare, government, institutions, hate, money, and blood.