Screenwriters: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Starring: Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Paul Bettany
Running Time: 110 mins
There's much to admire about The Secret Life Of Bees. This beautifully shot film contains several Oscar-worthy performances and plenty of emotive scenes. Yet ultimately the storyline feels rather inconsequential and a great deal of dramatic punch has been lost by translating Sue Monk Kidd's acclaimed novel to the big screen.
Despite the title, the plot doesn't revolve around hidden cameras following the honey-makers on their undercover activities. Instead, the increasingly languid action is set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement in 1960s South Carolina, a place where black people are treated as second class citizens. 14-year-old white girl Lily (Fanning) escapes from her tormented single parent father (Bettany) along with her selfless caretaker Rosaleen (Hudson).
After Rosaleen defies some vicious redneck racists, the pair find solace on a honey-manufacturing farm presided over by the warm and maternal August Boatwright (Latifah). The newcomers' presence causes contrasting reactions among August's sisters - the headstrong June (Keys) and the childlike May (Okonedo). However, as Lily probes the background of her deceased mother, her angry father is on her trail and moving closer to tracking her down.
Sadly, too much of The Secret Life Of Bees hinges upon Lily's voyage of discovery about her mother, who she accidentally killed when just a wee toddler. The revelations are the film's big dramatic pay-off, but instead serve to take focus away from the far more interesting inter-character relationships. It's a shame, because the opening portion of the film promises a great deal more.
Spearheading the fine cast is Dakota Fanning, a truly wondrous actress whose skill and emotional range as the spiritual Lily belies her tender age. As her confidante, Jennifer Hudson exudes a quiet, assured dignity that is rather affecting, while Sophie Okonedo's portrayal of a mentally handicapped woman is thoroughly convincing.
The film deals well with the racial tensions of the era, primarily through the verbal and physical abuse levelled out to Rosaleen because of her skin colour. Furthermore, the affluence of the Boatwright family is a pleasing departure from the usual stereotypes of black families during the time period.
Overall though, The Secret Life Of Bees disappoints because it can't quite bind together all the positive components within a rewarding plot. The performances simply deserve a better film.
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