Review- The Secret Life of Bees

Float like a butterfly
Review by Vives Anunciacion
Inquirer Libre January 26, 2009

The Secret Life of Bees
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Based on the novel by Sue Monk Kid
Showing exclusively at Glorietta and Greenbelt Cinemas

Call this a comfort movie for the cold season. The weather is getting cold again. The Secret Life of Bees is an emotionally earnest, simple coming of age drama about women, for women, by women.

Set in 1964 rural South Carolina right about the time racial tension was at its highest and the Civil Rights Act was just signed into Law by Lyndon Johnson, the story of “Bees” is about a young girl’s search of her mother’s past life, kept secret by an abusive father. Sometime at the beginning of the movie (and therefore it is not a plot spoiler if I reveal it) fourteen-year-old Lily (Dakota Fanning) reveals the reason for her emotional journey – “I killed my mother when I was four years old,” Lily says, “that’s all I know about myself.”

Lily runs away and leaves her father T. Ray (played by Paul Bettany) and their small peach orchard. Accompanied by her nanny Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), they travel across the state to Tiburon, where Lily thinks her mother stayed before she died. They are taken in by the Boatwright sisters who keep a bee farm (August, played by Queen Latifah, June, played by Alicia Keys, and May, played by Sophie Okonedo). There in the loving care of the Boatwright’s pink house, the once-emotionally distant, secretive and terrified Lily blooms into a happy, lovely, independent-minded young lady.

I haven’t read the book, which means I can’t make a comparison. If you liked Divine Sisters of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, you’ll probably like this one too. In fact you may need a couple of folds of tissue with “Bees.” I didn’t like Ya Ya Sisterhood, but it’s more a matter of taste than a measure of technical excellence.

In that area of filmmaking I find director Gina-Prince Bythewood’s visual composition simplistic (I think the more appropriate description is tableau-ish) and I was particularly disturbed by the editing’s emotional truncating. Sometimes an act starts or ends abruptly, but there seems to be no philosophy behind the matter.

Individually, performances by Latifah, Keys, Okonedo, Hudson and Bettany are inconsistent, most of the time hit and miss. Sometimes they’re ok, sometimes just blah. But together they share good chemistry, which is why, simplistic as the movie feels, the story comes out honest and truthful.

Fanning, no longer the little girl she was in I Am Sam, no more confirms that she is a future star in the making – she is a thoroughbred actor. I know for a fact that it’s difficult to film a breakdown scene, but she seems to have handled this very well, even if her most important line (“I’m unlovable”) drowns a little under her tears. But this young woman can teach over-actors a lesson or two about internalization.

I want to be clear that the film is good enough. It has good moments, maybe not great ones. But like Fanning’s performance that’s one level short of being nomination-worthy, “Bees” is just good enough but not great enough, even if points indicate that it could have been so.

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