Gerald Wright's Movie Coverage
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Running time: 110 mins.
Release date: October 17, 2008
Genre: Drama, Adventure and Adaptation
Distribution: Fox Searchlight
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The Secret Life of Bees is set in 1964 South Carolina during the year of the Civil Rights Act. Racial tension prevail. This period piece film adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd's 2002 bestselling novel by the same title, tells the story of a white teenage girl in the search for identity. Her problems are loneliness, confusion and the desire to be needed in the midst of the civil rights movement.
Fourteen year old Lily Owen, brilliantly played by the extremely talented Dakota Fanning, lives in the rural town of Sylvan, S.C. with her abusive single father Terrence Ray "T-Ray" Owens (Paul Bettany) a peach farmer. Lily is the protagonist and narrator of the story. She tells how lonely she is and how she misses her dead mother, who died by an accidental shooting during an argument with her father. The incident is part of the main theme in this touching story of sisterhood and redemption.
The subject of bees and insects enters the plot from the opening scenes, where Lily is playing with small bugs. The thought of her mother is vague. This is a stage of denial Lily is going through, which is guided by her father's ridicule of her image . Paul Bettany gives a great performance as T-Ray, a miserable and cruel man. The only possessions from her mother that remain is a picture of her with Black Madonna with "Tiburon, S.C". stamped on the back.
In of the racial unrest, Lily finds comfort in her friendship with her nanny Roseleen Daise (Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson). Roseleen is a worker on T-Ray's peach farm and a mother figure for Lily. As the black voter registration is in full force and opposed by the white racists, Roseleen is attacked, beaten and jailed. Lily finds a way to get her released and they flee Sylvan, S.C. to the only place Lily can think of - Tiburon, S.C. - determined to find out more about her dead mother.
At this point, the storyline focuses on how Lily and Roseleen meet the sisters of the hive. These sisters are the Boatwrights, owners of the Black Madonna Honey Company, who own and produce honey. Locally, they are known as the "Calendar Sisters", because they're named after months of the year. Oldest sister August (Queen Latifah) is the caring beekeeper who keeps Lily under her wing. Queen Latifah gives a strong performance. Next is May Boatwright (Sohie Okonedo) who originally takes in Lily and Roselee. May suffers constant depressions which leads into a drastic change in the story. Last of the sisters is June played by the Grammy Winner, and sometimes actress, Alicia Keys. June is an activist and cautiously did not want to take in Lily because of racial reprisal, but soon learns to care for her.
The movie's subplot of religion and feminism gives this film a more to dig into. There is also a romantic subplot with Lily finding August's godson Zachary Taylor (Tristan Wilds), a black teenage boy, interesting. Young puppy-love blooms. This interracial friendship adds more tension in the film as it causes problems in the racist town and adds more drama to an already highly intense film.
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood directs a great ensemble and balances each character's performance perfectly. She captures the adolescent moods of a young girl and gives an adventurous feel to a mundane country style environment. At the same time, she gives the audience a ringside seat in the turbulent 1960s Civil Rights Movement. This may not be an Oscar nominated movie, however it is a good, solid film.
FILM RATING (B+)