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Secret Life Of Bees, The
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THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, based on the New York Times best selling novel and set in South Carolina in 1964, is the moving tale of Lily Owens (Fanning) a 14 year-old girl who is haunted by the memory of her late mother (Burton). To escape her lonely life and troubled relationship with her father (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. Taken in by the intelligent and independent Boatwright sisters (Latifah, Okonedo and Keys), Lily finds solace in their mesmerizing world of beekeeping, honey and the Black Madonna.
Headed by an all-star cast of women, The Secret Life of Bees is the heartwarming and well-told story of a young girl who finds love and acceptance from a trio of independent sisters. The Secret Life of Bees is based on the bestselling book of the same name by Sue Monk Kidd and centers around the plight of 14-year-old Lily (Dakota Fanning). Assuming the burden for her mother's premature death, she has a precarious relationship with her abusive father T. Ray (Paul Bettany). Lily's only friend is her caregiver Rosaleen (Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson). Set in South Carolina in 1964, when civil rights wasn't a given, Rosaleen's life is threatened by racists who'd just as soon see her dead than exercise her right to vote. Lily runs away with her to a town she believes may hold the secrets of her mother's life. There the pair meet the Boatwright sisters August (Queen Latifah), June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo)--who produce the area's famous Black Madonna honey. They eventually provide Lily with the unconditional love she never felt she had and also show Rosaleen that being a black woman in the South doesn't mean she can't have a sense of worth. The Secret Life of Bees doesn't try to pass itself off as a historical documentation of race relations in the 1960s. But the fictional slice of life still resonates because of the feelings of injustice that it stirs up. Though the film is written to show the disparity between blacks and whites, there is always a strong sense of hope, thanks to the lead actresses who bring empathy and dignity to their roles. Hudson exhibits some of the same quiet grace that Regina Taylor brought to her role as the family housekeeper in the superb TV series I'll Fly Away. Latifah has the part of wise matriarch down pat, even when she's playing a sister rather than a mother. And it's clear that Fanning is making a seamless transition from kid to young adult roles. Whether she's giving an impassioned monologue or listening thoughtfully, Fanning brings nuance and intelligence to her role. --Jae-Ha Kim
Stills from The Secret Life of Bees (Click for larger image)
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As the story is based in great part within the head of Lily I knew it would be a challenge to portray, but as such the emphasis on other fine-points in the book had to be on the money. The casting for the most part was terrible, which does not reflect the actors or their talent, as they were given lines that were mealy. Probably the best cast, and best played was Sophie Okonedo who played May. Dakota Fanning cast as Lily was ok, and she had some strong moments.
Part of the problem was the set and how they took the concept of "cultured" too visually literal (what was up with all the all of the khakis and white shirts?); it seemed that Queen Latifah was made to float through the movie with a smile on her face rather than have the opportunity to draw out the depth of August Boatright. August's power was in her intellect, her wisdom, and the understanding and love of the human condition. There were also several areas that simply were not accurate (there was not a movie scene with Zach & Lily, this altercation happened on the street with some of Zach's peers).
Jennifer Hudson's script did not allow her to show the depth of Rosaleen. Rosaleen was feisty (should have shown the scene with her and T.Ray and the chick), and they should have let her actually have snuff in her lip and let her spit. Most of the time she is made to go through the movie looking vancant. T.Ray was not nearly as mean as he was in the movie, and though he did have a couple of almost human moments, he surely did not ever say "I love you," and you were supposed to be left wondering more strongly at the end if T.Ray let Lily go because down inside he did love her, or that his heart had hardened to such an extent that he truly had become mean-hearted and vile. Clearly Paul Bethany had the ability, but he too seemed to limited by the Director's need to sugar-coat the story.
I think the worst mistake was not explaining May's situation better. It did not explain that April committed suicide, or that she built up strong arm muscles carrying the rocks to the wailing wall (which would better connect you to the rock she placed on her own chest in the creek). They also blew it by a very simple omission; not allowing May to hum "oh Susanna" more clearly. (Another misrepresentation is that May found out about Zach on the phone not through personal contact with Zach's mom, this scene was powerful in the book, and limp in the movie).
So....sigh. Seriously bummed by the movie, but The Secret Life of Bee's will always be one of those books I reread occasionally (this was the third time prior to watching the movie). In the middle of "The Invention of Wings."
I loved this movie and cried more than I have in a long time. I have never been a fan of Dakota Fanning OR Queen Latifah, but they both delivered, big time. I also didn't realize Jennifer Hudson could act- but she did, and did so wonderfully! Throughout all the hatred in parts of this movie, it resonates love... full and complete love. I truly cannot pinpoint the best actor/actress in this movie because they all were phenomenal and flawless in their craft.
I have not read the book. But, after seeing the movie I now want to read it - which says a lot about how good it was. I love Queen Latifah, and she is known for good comedy roles, but I was struck by just how strong an actress she is. This role required subtle acting and she delivered. Often films set in this time period are mired in sadness and violence. This film shows the ugly part of racism, but doesn't dwell on it. The emphasis is more heartwarming. That's not to say it won't have you in tears at certain moments, for tragic reasons and for happy. Sometimes, the film goes over-the-top in pulling at heart strings and can be a bit over sentimental. However, I can forgive that since this isn't a popcorn movie. It's the story of one girl, and the women who come to shape her life. I considered giving it five stars, but realized that even though I liked it, it just wasn't up to the standard of films like The Color Purple. As an adaptation, TCP was stunning and the scale was nearly epic in the telling.
It's almost ironic that all three of the main actresses are first and foremost known as singers, yet each delivered an excellent performance that made me believe they were the character. Jennifer Hudson should consider dropping the music and concentrating on film - I'd certainly like to see more of her. Overall, I found the movie to be very good (but not outstanding) and the acting to be truly stellar. Recommended.