A strong buzz for "Bees"

Oct. 20, 2008, midnight | By Deepa Chellappa | 13 years, 7 months ago

With great acting and a touching storyline, this must-see movie is sweet as honey

Based on the New York Times best selling novel by Sue Monk Kidd, "The Secret Life of Bees" is a heartwarming family film that manages to incorporate spirituality, life lessons, American history and honest emotion without becoming overly sentimental. Unlike most literary interpretations, in which the actors usually fail to portray an accurate image of characters as the reader pictures them, this production remains true to the book and showcases a cast that is just right for the themes of love, family and personal exploration.

At its essence, the movie is the story of Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), a precocious 14 year-old girl raised by an angry and neglectful father (Paul Bettany) in North Carolina in the early 1960s. When Lily's black nanny, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) is beaten after insulting a white man, Lily takes off with Rosaleen, journeying through the Deep South in the midst of intense racial tension. The pair arrives in Tiburon, S.C., the magical town Lily has chosen to escape to, based on a hunch that her deceased mother may have once visited there. They are taken in by August Boatwright (Queen Latifah), an eccentric black beekeeper who lives with her sisters May (Sophie Okonedo) and June (Alicia Keys). With time and tender lessons from the Boatwright sisters and the bees, Lily discovers her true family in Tiburon and learns what it means to love and to be loved.

Because "The Secret Life of Bees" revolves around a young girl finding her place in a world tainted with tragedy, the weight of the film falls on Fanning's shoulders - and she does her job flawlessly, making Lily's innocence, sadness and spunk come to life. At times her emotions seem forced, but Fanning more than keeps up with the big girls. In fact, the movie's strongest asset is the stellar cast; there's hardly a performance onscreen that isn't riveting. Queen Latifah is a force to be reckoned with, a powerful screen presence that makes her perfect as August, the movie's emotional center. Jennifer Hudson also plays her role masterfully, giving us a proud but underprivileged woman determined to fulfill her potential. Okonedo's face is a marvel as well; every thought, every emotion that May feels flickers across it, making the audience sympathize deeply with her character.

Lily's story unfolds against the backdrop of the Civil Rights controversy of 1964 in the South and the film approaches the discrimination of the time period unflinchingly. By not softening the edges of some of the racially charged confrontations, "The Secret Life of Bees" earns a PG-13 rating, but it is commendable that its appraisal of this period of American history is so raw and honest.

The movie is not without faults. The dialogue tries a little too hard to be prophetic and folksy. It's difficult to imagine a 14-year-old thinking or talking the way Lily does in the narration: "The bees showed up like the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary," she thinks to herself in the beginning of the movie. "I know it's forward to compare my small life to hers, but I have good reason to believe she wouldn't mind." This overdone dialogue, while faithful to the book, is out of place on the big screen. Furthermore, the movie drags for the first 30 minutes as we watch Lily and Rosaleen mill about miserably in their pitiful lives, and only really picks up when we meet the charming and captivating Boatwright sisters. But the biggest flaw in an otherwise moving story is the abrupt ending. It leaves the audience wanting more, especially because the rest of the movie is so poignant.

Despite its faults, "The Secret Life of Bees" is a film with a lot of heart. Those who were moved by the novel will certainly find this adaptation affecting and emotionally satisfying, as the film elicits laughter and tears in equal and appropriate doses. It is a well-kept beehive of a movie: warm, sweet and buzzing with life.

"The Secret Life of Bees" (110 minutes) is rated PG-13 for brief, crude language, some violence and disturbing thematic elements. Now playing everywhere.

Deepa Chellappa. The high point of Deepa's life thus far occurred when she waved to Mickey Mouse at a Disney World parade and he blew her a kiss in return. Needless to say, she hates Minnie with a passion. In her free time, Deepa can be found … More »

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