Nobody is more virile than a blind man in a bad movie. From Army Ranger Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade in “Scent of a Woman” to Virgil Adamson in “At First Sight,” these characters are cartoons of masculinity, using their dicks like antennae as they help guide the sighted people in their lives towards some kind of personal growth. While blind women are often rendered as pretty, pitiable things in desperate need of assistance (a trope that Charlie Chaplin inadvertently helped cement in “City Lights,” and that Lars von Trier very deliberately weaponized in “Dancer in the Dark”), their male counterparts are seen as horny, feral animals who compensate for their sightlessness with bat-like sonar and a bloodhound’s sense of smell.
And so we end up with movies like Michael Mailer’s divertingly banal “Blind,” in which Alec Baldwin plays a vision-impaired (but hyper-sexual) writer who can tell from halfway across the room when Demi Moore takes off her shirt because her “pheromones got stronger.” Maybe that’s possible, maybe it’s not, but it certainly doesn’t do any favors for a hackneyed romantic drama in dire need of anything that resembles actual human behavior.
“Blind” is bad for many reasons, chief among them how it contributes to the belittling notion that representation doesn’t matter for a demographic that will never be able to see themselves on screen. Here we have yet another movie that thinks blindness is only worth looking at through the prism of masculinity. How does being blind affect a guy’s ability to fuck, and what can he do to offset that disadvantage? Or, in 2017 speak: How can our own bodies turn us into cucks?
Baldwin, here in full Jack Donaghy mode minus the tux and the savage wit, stars as Bill Oakland, a one-hit-wonder novelist whose literary career is sideswiped by the car crash that kills his wife and steals his sight. These days, he’s reduced to sitting in the facility where he lives and listening to the various volunteers who drop by to read Bill the awful essays written by his university students (one such volunteer naturally insists that Bill’s novel “taught him how to be a man”).
Referred to as the Indominus Rex of his group home, Bill is a cantankerous shut-in who’s quick to snap at his guests, even if just for his own amusement; stick a hand in his cage and he might try to bite it off. His intellect is far too feeble to justify his disposition — you can either be an arrogant crank or you can be someone who says things like “feeling is seeing,” but you can’t be both — and yet Baldwin’s natural gravitas almost makes it work.
Of course, Bill has a softer side, and you don’t need to have superhuman senses to smell it coming from a mile away. Even before Suzanne (Moore) and Bill meet-cute, the effect that she will have on him (and vice-versa) is thuddingly obvious. Married to a monstrous hedge fund type (Dylan McDermott) who’s been cos-playing “The Wolf of Wall Street” for so long that he hasn’t even noticed the ’80s are over, Suzanne is the most miserable socialite in all of Manhattan. When her husband isn’t busy appearing on “Mad Money” or dragging her to the Boom Boom Room or telling his timid new hire to read one of Doyle Brunson’s poker books or otherwise indicating that this script hasn’t been polished since 2006, he’s committing fraud. That’s bad for both of them, and it’s even worse for their marriage. He goes to jail, but Suzanne gets off with community service. Fortunately for her, love is always waiting in the last place you look — the pheromones are getting stronger.
Bill may be blind, but he sees Suzanne better than her husband ever has. Suzanne may be sighted, but she’s blind to the fact that her husband is screwing around. There have been car commercials with more nuanced senses of irony. But irony is the only move this film has, and so it defaults to treating Bill and Suzanne as complete opposites in every respect. He’s smart, so she’s vacuous. He’s a walking boner, so she’s prudish. Bill is a raging sexist who can’t use the bathroom without tripping over his baggage, but Suzanne likes that she always knows where to find him — she likes that Bill needs her. One half-assed montage later and they’re fumbling around in the dark together.
To Mailer’s credit, the film doesn’t always overplay Bill’s disability. He’s a reasonably independent guy who’s still capable of teaching his class, and Suzanne is never made to feel like his service dog. That doesn’t stop the story from acting as though Suzanne is making a noble sacrifice to be with him — as though having sex with a blind man were some incredibly charitable act — but Suzanne isn’t afforded enough of an interior life for us to dwell on such things. Moore hints at something underneath the surface, but the script consistently reduces her to the effect that she has on the men in her life.
Instead of digging deeper, Mailer opts to spend time with her husband in jail, and with Bill as he sits in his bedroom and thinks about his dead wife (a character so poorly sketched that her violent demise earns the film’s strongest laugh). Eventually, Suzanne’s two suitors square off in a fight between a blind sexist with a heart of gold and the white-collar douchebro who has no qualms punching him in the face. How is a girl to choose? “Bill’s your short story,” Suzanne husband insists. “I’m your novel.” Neither one is worth reading.
“Blind” opens in theaters on July 14th.