The real shame about "The Secret Life of Bees" is that it tries so very, very hard to hit all its marks.
Reasonably faithful adaptation of New York Times best-seller? Check. Heartfelt message of racial tolerance?
Check. Highly marketable cast? Double check.
You can practically feel the sweat dripping from the movie's earnest brow.
Sweat and good intentions, however, will take you only so far. And they take "Bees" right up to the
threshold of entertaining -- but not one step further.
"Bees" is based on Sue Monk Kidd's 2002 novel, a hugely popular exploration of family, love and the brutal
politics of race in 1964 South Carolina.
But while Kidd's understated writing style provided her angst-ridden characters room to breathe, director Gina Prince-Bythewood 's script forces the same characters through their paces at breakneck speed, never allowing a moment for reflection, much less an opportunity for anyone to break from their predetermined function.
Dakota Fanning (looking startlingly and suddenly like a teenager) plays Lily, a lonely budding writer whose life is defined by two realities: She's pretty sure she killed her own mother, who may or may not have loved her. And her father (Paul Bettany, doing a very convincing impression of an angry, devastated man who has lost everything, including at least some of his mind) wants nothing to do with her.
When events in their small South Carolina town threaten them both, Lily and Rosaleen, her one-time nanny (Jennifer Hudson), strike out for Tiburon, where Lily suspects she may find clues to her mother's mysterious life. Instead, she finds a giant pink house, a honey company and three sisters.
Kidd's novel didn't shy from casting these women as archetypes, but the movie doesn't cast as much as it straitjackets. There's August, the mother/nurturer (Queen Latifah, delivering a restrained, even somber performance); June, the feisty, intermittently selfish artist (Alicia Keys); and May, the woman-child (Sophie Okonedo), still grieving the long-ago loss of her twin sister.
This set-up -- four black women caring for one white child -- has the potential to be, shall we say, icky. Like the book, the movie does what it can to acknowledge and defuse this tension (Keys delivers several bracingly candid lines). But unlike Kidd's work, the film is too beholden to advancing the plot line -- and preparing for the looming emotional tsunami -- to allow most of its characters to advance beyond caricatures. (Only Bettany's solid performance makes Lily's father an exception: He's clearly deranged, but he's also clearly in pain, which at least partly explains why he treats his daughter so abominably.)
When the real suffering starts, you may find yourself thinking things can't get much worse for these people. (You'd be wrong: In 1960s South Carolina, black women were basically guaranteed more than their share of suffering.) And by the time the final on-screen tear has been wiped away, and the last hanky hung on the line to dry, all but the most forgiving audience members will feel cruelly manipulated.
But what you won't feel is especially edified. Because this movie holds that there are two kinds of people: good people and bad people. Beekeepers and racists. Righteous white lawyers and small-minded white secretaries. You get the idea. And while it's all very neat and tidy, it's just not very satisfying.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for thematic material and some violence).
Running time: 1:50.
Starring: Queen Latifah (August); Dakota Fanning (Lily); Jennifer Hudson (Rosaleen); Alicia Keys (June); Sophie Okonedo (May).
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood; screenplay by Prince-Bythewood, from the novel by Sue Monk Kidd; photographed by Rogier Stoffers; edited by Terilyn A. Shropshire; music by Mark Isham; production design by Warren Alan Young; produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, James Lassiter, Will Smith and Joe Pichirallo. A Fox Searchlight release.
The Secret Life of Bees Movie Trailer
About the Movie "The Secret Life of Bees"
Starring Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning, The Secret Life of Bees is the moving tale of Lily Owens, a 14 year-old girl who is haunted by the memory of her late mother. To escape her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father, Lily flees with Rosaleen, her caregiver and only friend, to a South Carolina town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Taken in by the intelligent and independent Boatwright sisters, Lily finds solace in their mesmerizing world of beekeeping, honey and the Black Madonna.
Also starring Academny Award winner Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, & Paul Bettany
Written for the Screen and Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Based upon the novel by: Sue Monk Kidd
Produced by : Lauren Shuler Donner, James Lassiter, Will Smith, Joe Pichirallo
Executive Produced by: Jada Pinkett Smith
Cast: Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Nate Parker, Tristan Wilds, Hilarie Burton and Paul Bettany
The Secret Life of Bees Movie Review Film Critic Michael Phillips Reviews The Secret Life of Bees Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo in the movie The Secret Life of Bees
The Secret Life of Bees Movie Review, Movie Trailer, Movie Production Notes, Synopsis, About the Movie, About the Cast