DIR/WRI: Gina Prince-Bythewood • PRO: Ed Cathell III, James Lassiter, Ewan Leslie, Joe Pichirallo, Lauren Shuler Donner, Will Smith • DOP: Rogier Stoffers • ED: Terilyn A. Shropshire • DES: Warren Alan Young • CAST: Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo
‘Bring your girlfriends, sisters, mothers and daughters.’
Thus reads the tagline for The Secret Life of Bees, a coming-of-age drama following steel-willed eleven-year-old Lily Owens who leaves home and an abusive father to search out the story of her dead mother. Followed by black maid Rosaleen they land into a world of warmth in the form of the also black Boatwright sisters who accept them onto their bee farm.
And here ends the necessary plot information. Add a black statue of the Virgin Mary, a touch of conspicuous déjà vu and a mob-inspiring romance and you have the final product.
Adapted from Sue Monk Kid’s semi-biographical short story, and then novel, the film portrays a rough and tumble 1960s South Carolina where civil rights is quite a hot topic indeed. The consensus of the story is that black women are the nurturing population of the world, so be wary of being either white or male. Ironically, despite Alicia Keys’ piercing stare, the charismatic cameo from Paul Bettany overshadows the girls.
It is refreshing to see Dakota Fanning play a character younger than her, and not rush towards being a fully flourished leading lady. Around-par performances help cement the ‘pretty good, but nothing innovative’ label; from Queen Latifah as loving mother-figure August, Jennifer Hudson as introspective Rosaleen and Sophie Okonedo as often-overwhelmed May. The music plays a large part also, with some pieces from Keys also adding to (and sometimes carrying) the sentimentality.
The changes made from paper to screen should help increase the number of paying customers, but don’t expect any broken records here. And heed the tagline: the viewing pleasure of the male portion of the crowd remains in question, but if you’re susceptible to an uplifting tale or a happy tear then it’s worth a chance.