Queen Latifah's Queen Bee
I've not read Sue Monk Kidd's novel which "The Secret Life of Bees" is adapted from but I get a sense that from the movie certain elements were favoured over others. What I mean is that whilst the story is set against the backdrop of the summer of 1964, when the new Civil Rights Act was making life complicated the actual racial tension side of the story seems to take a back seat, cropping up at points but not being the real focus of the story. Instead we have this touching tale of a young girl who goes looking for the truth about her mother, a mother who has haunted her thoughts since she accidentally killed her. Having written that it doesn't sound touching at all but "The Secret Life of Bees" most certainly is and in a way has the charm and nostalgic style of "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe" making it a surprisingly pleasant movie to watch.
During the summer of 1964, 14 year old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning - Dreamer) leaves home with her carer Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls) looking to discover more about her mother, a mother who has constantly been in her thoughts when as a young girl she accidentally killed her. Travelling across country and leaving her abusive and violent father behind, Lily and Rosaleen come across the Boatwright sisters who take them in. It is through her friendship which forms with August Boatwright (Queen Latifah - What Happens in Vegas) that she learns all about bee keeping but also the truth about her mother.
So as already mentioned that whilst "The Secret Life of Bees" is set during a period of civil unrest the focus of the movie is really on young Lily Owens trying to find out more about the mother she accidentally killed as a small child. And what she wants to know is whether her mother loved her as her only real memory is of her mother leaving the family home and then returning to get her stuff. It floats around a fair bit to get to the point as it builds up the life of the Boatwright sisters who Lily finds herself living with and the whole time using the subject of Bees as a metaphor for a lot of what Lily learns and encounters. But it is entertaining in a very easy going manner, it oozes warmth and charm as well as a bit of mystery as we discover more not only about Lily's mother but also the Boatwright sisters who seem a diverse bunch.
Having said that there are moments of impact in "The Secret Life of Bees" no more so than at the start as through a flashback we see Lily's mother die and also become aware of her volatile and plainly nasty father. And whilst the racial tension does take a back seat it does crop up every now and then and credit where it is due as director Gina Prince-Bythewood doesn't shy away from showing the troubles. It is shocking when you witness Lily's friend and carer Rosaleen attacked by a group of white men and the same again later on when we witness more racial trouble. But "The Secret Life of Bees" is by no means a movie about the racial tensions rather using it to set the scene and bring in moments of drama which thankfully don't feel out of place.
A big reason as to why "The Secret Life of Bees" ends up so charming is down to the performances especially that of Dakota Fanning who is impressive as young Lily. There is no over dramatics, no over acting just a nuanced performance from a young actress who manages to be in tune with her character. She delivers the emotion, the sadness and the joy as she finds comfort and security in the home of the Boatwright sisters. And whilst the rest of the cast features such strong women in the shape of Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys there is no scene stealing antics, in fact they are all rather restrained but rightly so as it aids in delivering the warmth and charm. Yes maybe Queen Latifah as August Boatwright is too nice and at peace with everything but I will say it again she exudes warmth and it is the warmth of all the performances and the sweet nature of the storyline which makes the movie the charming, touching tale it sets out to be.
What this all boils down to is that "The Secret Life of Bees" is a charming warm movie which may occasionally feel a little fake in being so charming and sweet but exudes a wonderful warmth. I get a feeling that certain aspects of the novel have been ignored in favour of the sweet tale of Lily learning the truth and finding security but it doesn't shy away from delivering moments of drama and impact.