By Adam Frazier
Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s latest film, “The Secret Life of Bees,” is an adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s highly praised Civil Rights-era novel and features a powerhouse female-centric cast.
Set in South Carolina in 1964, “The Secret Life of Bees” is the heart-affecting story of Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), a 14 year-old girl who is haunted by the memory of her dead mother. To escape her isolated life and abusive father (Paul Bettany), Lily flees with caregiver and only friend Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) to a small South Carolina town in search of clues about her mother’s past.
Upon arriving in town, the two find sanctuary in a big Pepto-Bismol-pink house belonging to entrepreneur bee farmer August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) and her two sisters–the self-reliant June (Alicia Keys) and the delicate, childlike May (Sophie Okonedo). Rosaleen helps May with the cooking and household tasks, and Lily is recruited into the mesmerizing world of beekeeping, where she learns the art of making honey.
Prince-Bythewood, who wrote and directed the 2000 film “Love and Basketball,” presents a solid piece of work that thrives off of commanding performances. Dakota Fanning seems destined to avoid that awkward phase every child actor encounters in his or her career. She continues to make smart choices in the roles she plays and it’s only a matter of time until Fanning is thanking the academy.
Having previously been nominated for an Oscar for her role opposite Don Cheadle in “Hotel Rwanda,” Sophie Okonedo’s achingly touching role in “The Secret Life of Bees” may generate enough buzz to garner a second nomination. Alicia Keys proves to be as striking and commanding on screen as she is behind a piano, and Queen Latifah delivers as a soulful, nurturing spirit that finally makes Lily feel loved.
“The Secret Life of Bees” is a touching film that earns its tears and heartfelt sentiment honestly. The performances elicit real emotion, and though some elements of the script travel through well-worn territory, it’s an entertaining and affecting work. Those looking for award-winning cinematography or brilliant direction will probably find this film underwhelming and a little on the sappy side. While that honey-dipped sweetness might leave some art snobs disappointed, others will find “The Secret Life of Bees” is rich in heart and love.