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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Secret Life of Bees (The)

Would it be too corny of me to tell you that The Secret Life of Bees is a real honey of a movie? Okay, so before you tell me to buzz off and mind my own beeswax, just hear me out. It truly is sweeter than you can imagine, a fable about growing up the hard way down south in 1964, when times were less than golden for a lot of people, but especially African Americans trying to claim their civil rights in a world where federal legislation promising them equality seemed to mean little.

Ironically, or maybe I should say expectedly, even though
The Secret Life of Bees is a realistic portrayal of the hardships and lives of a black family in South Carolina, the protagonist of the story is actually a fourteen-year-old lily-white girl named Lily (Dakota Fanning; Winged Creatures), whose life is also no fairy tale. Lily lives with her abusive and very angry father, T. Ray (Paul Bettany; The Da Vinci Code), who takes out his frustrations and failures on his daughter, whom he has raised alone since her mother died in a freak accident when Lily was four. Bettany, who is British and usually plays ri€h upper class Europeans does an outstanding job here, so much so that I wanted to hit him in the head with a frying pan, drag in into the bathroom, and throw him in the tub. He is not only an ass of a character, he also looks like he reeks, and I can’t stand my villains stinky. That is just too abysmal even for moi.

Lily’s one friend seems to be her father’s housekeeper, Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson; Sex and the City), an African American woman who may live in the 1960s but her mind firmly in the 21st century. I keep wondering if she is thinking about the fact that she went from “American Idol” to winning an
Oscar and now she is back in a sack dress in South Carolina with no make-up, waiting on white people. Even if it is in a movie, it’s got to suck. At least her character expects to be treated with the same dignity of a white person, especially when she is simply going about her life and causing no trouble. That’s what they used to call “uppity.” Unfortunately, the world back then didn’t often agree with her ideals, and she is attacked by a group of white men for “talking back” to them as she and Lily are going to a store. When the police arrive, instead of defending her, they only intervene after Rosaleen is beaten to a pulp, and then they arrest her for disturbing the peace and send her to the hospital in chains.

Meanwhile, of course, all of this leads to a horrible confrontation between T. Ray and Lily, who
banishes the girl from having anything to do with Rosaleen ever again. He refuses to listen to Lily’s explanation of the encounter with the mob, and so she sees no alternative but to run away, so she sneaks into the hospital, frees Rosaleen from her bed restraints and the both of them hit the road together as fugitives. So here is the “real” start of the film, and it can go any number of ways, but with these two on the road it looks like an inter-racial Thelma & Louise for a few minutes anyway. That’s only a passing fancy, natch, since this is a high-end weepie and not a shoot ‘em up chicks-gone-wild movie, so don’t get your testosterone revved up, guys.

Still, this is where the movie starts buzzing, and yes, there is excitement of a different sort once Lily and Rosaleen meet the Boatwright sisters, a family of remarkable black women headed by eldest sister August (Queen Latifah; Mad Money). August and sisters May (Sophie Okonedo; Martian Child) and June (Alicia Keys; The Nanny Diaries) live in a grand old house where they support themselves by bottling and selling honey from the hives located on the far end of their property.

Here’s where the title becomes a literal story and an allegory for the lives of the Boatwrights. August explains to wide-eyed Lily about
The Secret Life of Bees as she assists August while they smoke the hives and gather the honey. As for the allegory, the movie itself is an unveiling of that, peeling away the layers of these amazing women’s lives as well as Lily and Rosaleen’s, and how each intertwines with the others in helping all grow into better and stronger people as they share their time together. Much like the bees in a hive, every one of the women have a part in the bigger picture even if it is not clear at the outset what the outcome will be.

If you are thinking that
The Secret Life of Bees sounds like a four hanky chick flick that will have you weeping like a ten year old who has discovered that Santa Claus won’t be making a visit anymore you are almost right. It is Heartbreak City, and it has several moments that will wound you through-and-through. It even had my perfect husband sniffling and blinking back tears, but that’s a good thing, even if it sounds like a real downer. Actually, The Secret Life of Bees is anything but depressing. It is really an uplifting tale of coming to terms with your greatest fears, facing them, and moving beyond stronger and at peace. Lily does it; Rosaleen does it, even the ice princess June takes a transformative step before the film ends.

A big surprise in The Secret Life of Bees is how grown-up Dakota Fanning has become. It’s odd to see Fanning looking more womanly than little girly for the first time. Now 14, she has been indelibly imprinted on the American psyche as that cute little girl from 2001’s I Am Sam and 2003’s The Cat in the Hat. Even in 2005’s War of the Worlds, she still bore the look of a child, but here she begins the film looking fragile and small (thanks to director and screenwriter Gina Prince-Bythewood; Reflections), but once free of T. Ray, her posture expands and she blossoms rapidly into a beautiful teenager reminiscent of younger Jodie Foster. The Secret Life of Bees also marks Fanning’s first on-screen romance, though it is an underplayed event. Her character, Lily, develops a crush on a teenage boy who works for the Boatwrights, Zach Taylor (Tristan Wilds; tv’s “90210”), who is so fine I had a crush on him too the moment I laid eyes on him even though I could be his gran--, er, um, aunt. This kid is so hot; he could melt steel with his smile. As Zach, he has the opportunity to give Dakota her first screen kiss, and I couldn’t help but wonder how awkward it must have been on-set with her mom watching just off-camera along with 60 or 70 crew members. No wonder there were no tongues. I bet he was so nervous he broke out in hives.

Truly, though, I may kid, but
The Secret Life of Bees is a hum-dinger of a film, probably one of the best you could hope to see all year. Based on the best-selling book by Sue Monk Kidd (“The Dance of the Dissident Daughter”), this is a lovely story for the whole family and it will provide some terrific “teachable moments” for parents who want to educate their youngsters about the civil rights era and open their eyes to the reality of how different things were for so many of our citizens only forty years ago. It’s a tale that should never be forgotten and The Secret Life of Bees tells it with class. It is a celebration of life that will leave you feeling better for having seen it.

2 comments:

heliniorimsa said...

It was shocking drama for me. Even it is a story that we can cry from the start. The directoer has added the strength and the power of holding hands together and also the power of women. Secret life of bees is the most voting movie for me and saw the movie at http://www.80millionmoviesfree.com

edinboro said...

It was out standing movie that I have experienced lately. Thought it was better with the most blacks involve in main characters. They are always pulling and reaching the higher standards of acting. by Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo is superb. So too Gina Prince-Bythewood commitment shows the grate outcome of the movie. I watch it online from web site called http://www.80millionmoviesfree.com