SECRET LIFE OF BEES, THE
A tragic accident robs 4 year old Lily of her mother (Hilarie Burton) and leaves her in the rough and ready care of her father T.Ray (Paul Bettany) and their housekeeper, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). A decade later, in 1964, despite recently introduced equal rights legislation, blacks are still in danger, and after a nasty confrontation with some racist whites in town, Lily and Rosaleen run away. A memento of her mother's guides Lily to a house in a South Carolina town, where they are taken in by local beekeeper and honey maker, August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) and her sisters June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo). Here, Lily discovers the secret lives of bees and a few other important treasures to help her overcome her sense of being unlovable.
Review by Louise Keller:
A touching coming of age story about a young girl who desperately wants to be loved, this adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's bestseller The Secret Life of Bees is as compelling as its intriguing title. Dakota Fanning plays 14 year old troubled and motherless Lily Owens who is overly burdened by guilt. It's another impressive performance by a young actress drawn to tough roles. Yet the film has a dream-like quality above its punchy emotional core. It is the summer of 1964 in South Carolina, when issues of racial discrimination, abuse and dysfunctional father daughter relationship are canvassed.
In the film's opening scenes, we understand the difficult circumstances in which Lily lives. All she has to remember her mother by are a few treasured items including a photo and a picture of a black Madonna, which she keeps safely buried in a tin box. The incongruous combination of a honey label, a house painted pink, a wailing wall, three black sisters named after months of the year, and thousands of bees become the answer to Lily's prayers. After an incident involving racists and their housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), Lily runs away from her uncaring father T.Ray (Paul Bethany).
It might take a leap of faith to believe Lily and Rosaleen's luck as they fall into the welcoming arms of Queen Latifah's August Boatwright, who runs her commercial honey empire from the pink house, with her two sisters June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo). It's a complex household and Lily is taught that the same rules apply in life as they do in looking after bees in their ever-complicated lives.
The characters are nicely drawn and we warm to each of the sisters as Lily settles in. There's an ongoing saga concerning the cello-playing June and her boyfriend Neil (Nate Parker) and the emotionally fragile May ('Sometimes not feeling is the only way you can survive'), who buries her secrets on her wailing wall. There is also a hint of romance with Tristan Wilds' Zach Taylor. Latifah is Mother Earth herself and provides the calm and harmony Lily badly needs. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood who also adapted the screenplay, delivers a sound dramatic arc as the story strands form an emotionally dense and satisfying resolution. It may sound trite, but when Latifah says 'Don't be afraid; don't be an idiot; don't swot and send bees love,' somehow it makes sense.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A dense story about a little girl and the impact her mother's death has on her makes terrific cinema in this beautifully realised film from Gina Prince-Bythewood and her outstanding cast. Dakota Fanning is maturing as a teen actress with great depth and accessibility; with Jennifer Hudson as a black domestic servant, they make a terrific runaway duo in the still-racist world of the South.
But once they find refuge at the pink house where August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) lovingly tends her bees, the heart of the story begins to open. Queen Latifah is a wonderful mother figure, all warm but also wise in the ways of the world. Her tough, cello playing sister June (Alicia Keys) and her super-vulnerable little sister May (Sophie Okonedo) provide contrasts, each fulfilling the written characters from Georgia-born Sue Monk Kidd's novel. Gina Prince-Bythewood has adapted the book with consummate sensitivity, but careful not to turn it into a blunt instrument about racism, or about male domestic abuse, or a sentimentally soppy soap. She knows not to gild the lily; no need to up the ante on a story already full of emotional taglines and highpoints.
The opening sequence is crucial and we must remember the details of it at key moments. The journey that the 14 year old Lily makes is filled with interest and the revelations of the story about Lily's mother are beautifully managed for credibility and impact. The grim reality behind the story is garlanded with the flowers of humanity and we are satisfied that decency prevails - there is hope for us all. But pain is unavoidable.
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SECRET LIFE OF BEES, THE (M)
CAST: Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Paul Bettany, Hilarie Burton, Tristan Wilds, Nate Parker,
PRODUCER: Will Smith, Lauren Shuller Donner, James Lassiter, Ewan Leslie, Joe Pichirallo
DIRECTOR: Gina Prince-Bythewood
SCRIPT: Gina Prince-Bythewood (novel by Sue Monk Kidd)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rogier Stoffers
EDITOR: Terilyn A. Shropshire
MUSIC: Mark Isham
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Warren Alan Young
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 5, 2009