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October 2008

by Wilson Morales


Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Screenwriter: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Cast: Queen Latifah, Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Sophie Okonedo, Alicia Keys, Paul Bettany, Hilarie Burton, Nate Parker, Tristan Wilds


Bestsellers that get adapted into films come with certain expectations. Most fans of the book want to see if the film would be nearly as good to what they read. At the same time, studio executives as well as producers hope that a built-in audience will translate into a financial success. After being shelved for some time, Sue Monk Kidd’s bestseller, ‘The Secret Life Of Bees’ is finally a film with an all-star cast to boot. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, and starring Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, and Tristan Wilds, the film is laced with dramatic and powerful performances, and will certainly satisfy the fans and newcomers to the story.

Set in South Carolina in 1964, the film is the moving tale of Lily Owens (Fanning) a 14 year-old girl who is haunted by the memory of her late mother (Hilary Burton). To escape her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father (Paul Bettany), Lily flees with Rosaleen (Hudson), her caregiver and only friend, to a South Carolina town that holds the secret to her mother's past. Rosaleen herself is a fugitive after fleeing the state for standing up for herself against some white racists when questioned whether she will take part in voting and got into a scuffle and then gets beaten up by the cops. Taken in by the intelligent and independent Boatwright sisters, August (Latifah), May (Okonedo), and June (Keys), Lily finds solace in their mesmerizing world of beekeeping, honey and the Black Madonna.

It’s been years since Gina Prince-Bythewood directed a film, but with ‘Love and Basketball’ and ‘Disappearing Acts’ to her credit, she has shown with this film that she hasn’t missed a beat. She examines the racial tension and violence that existed in the South in the 1960s without throwing too much on the plate. While some may complain that film is too sentimental at times, it’s really the performances that stand out. Fanning, who has basically grown up before our eyes and stands out amongst her young peers, delivers a wonderful performance. While her character’s background may seem similar to the one Fanning played in ‘Hounddog’ in which she yearns for a mother and stability, the tone of the film is different.

As the matriarch of the group, on and probably off the set, Latifah plays her role with grace and a sense of confidence, especially at a time when racism was very existent in the 60s. As elder sister August, she has to be the voice of reason for all around her. Aside from the small but noticeable role she had in ‘Sex and the City: The Movie’, Hudson really sank her teeth into this film, and proves that her Oscar for ‘Dreamgirls’ wasn’t all about her singing. As the sister who’s a little ‘touched’ in the head, Okonedo doesn’t steer to playing the role over-the-top and brings a sense of reality that not all is right in the world. One can no longer call Keys a neophyte in the film once they see her performance. She can hold her own with the rest of the ladies and shows a range that can take her to bigger roles in the future.

As for the guys, Bettany seemed too much of a heavyweight in the beginning for one to question his casting, but towards the end was then given some worthy scenes to make himself useful and relevant. Kudos for casting Tristan Wilds. He was mesmerizing in HBO’s The Wire series, and is amazing to see his talent explored on the big screen. In general, what makes ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ an entertaining and poignant film is the chemistry between the cast that translates on screen.