October 16, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

You mind if I call you 'Pooh Bear'?

Grade: C +

Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, and Paul Bettany

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Theaters: Spring Lane Cinemas in Sanford; Crossroads 20 in Cary

Resting on a central metaphor as hollow as a honey comb, The Secret Life of Bees is a Hallmark Hall of Fame refugee about a 14-year-old white girl, Lily (Dakota Fanning), and her black caregiver, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), who escape a racist mid-1960s town in South Carolina for another, marginally less racist town in South Carolina (filming takes place in and around Lumberton, NC). There, they stumble across a bee farm run by three sisters and African-American archetypes: August, the maternal mammy (Queen Latifah), May, the vaguely mystical dimwit (Sophie Okonedo), and June, the independent-minded activist (Alicia Keys).

The farm may or may not have some connection to Lily’s mother, whom Lily accidentally shot and killed at age four, setting the stage for a prolonged search for identity that doubles as a mawkish showcase of white guilt. In the end, August spouts winsome bons mots, June gets married, Rosaleen gets to vote, and Lily gets to kiss a black guy. The headliner for this saccharine fable is now-teenage Fanning, who sheds her erstwhile precocious idiosyncrasies for a budding maturity (and physique) that recalls a young Jodie Foster.

Neil Morris

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