The Secret Life of Bees

"Bad"

The Secret Life of Bees Review


Caucasians, apparently, have no soul. Or heart. Or common sense. According to the movies, whenever the majority lacks a moment of personal clarity, they seek solace, advice, and sage-like wisdom from the groups they marginalized for centuries. As a result, some manner of karmic comeuppance is achieved. The latest example of this Bagger Vance-ing of inferred race relations is The Secret Life of Bees. Set in the percolating days of the Civil Rights Movement, this weepy feel-good sampling of you-go-girl saccharine has some real value. But it can't avoid the sugared-sap clichés that have helped to craft this particular motion picture subgenre.

Lily (Dakota Fanning) lives in rural South Carolina with her no-account abusive redneck daddy T. Ray (Paul Bettany) and the family housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). Her mother died when she was very young, and the circumstances have haunted the young girl ever since. When President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1964 into law, Rosaleen decides to register. In the process, she is assaulted, beaten, and arrested. In a moment of opportunity, she escapes the police, and takes Lily out on the run. They wind up in the care of the Boatwright sisters -- August (Queen Latifah), June (Alicia Keys), and May (Sophie Okonedo). Successful beekeepers, their safe haven gives Lily a chance to face the demons from the past and plot a course for the future.

With its pleasant valley Sunday depiction of the South and numerous allusions to women as the superior societal species, The Secret Life of Bees is a manipulative quagmire of competing sentiments that literally sucks you in -- and not necessarily in a good way. Based on a bestselling novel by Sue Monk Kidd, and directed with sun-dappled drowsiness by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball), this five-hanky artifice is like a soap opera splashed with moments of gooey grandeur. We don't really mind that this director is manipulating every single solid emotion out of us. It's just that, with a story set in this place and time, something more than forced feelings would have been nice.

This is a film saved by its interesting, often effective performances. Fanning is still having a hard time growing into her adolescent acting career. She seems a good two films away from finally making peace with post-pubescence. On the other hand, Hudson and Latifah are excellent, infusing the material with a sense of personal pride that helps balance out the occasionally cornball contrivances. There are scenes that work well here -- the aftermath of Hudson's beating at the hands of unrepentant racists, a tender moment between Lily and a young black man (Tristan Wilds). But then the none-to-subtle symbolism (May's rock wall of "lost souls," the Black Madonna) threatens to undo their value.

Of course, the bigger problem with something like The Secret Life of Bees is the flimsy fallout derived from that age-old clash between allegory and reality. Anyone looking for a realistic depiction of segregation amongst lapsed Confederates should probably hit the Discovery Channel. The racism here is utilized almost exclusively as metaphor -- for isolation, for self-awareness, for newfound dignity. However, if you don't mind a fairy tale founded in one of the most socially unsettled times in our past, then what Prince-Bythewood is selling will go down smoother than the Boatwrights' sticky sweet amber honey.

Some 44 years later, it's nice to think ("think," remember) that times have changed, that the always blustery white race has comprehended the error of its back-of-the-bus ways and settled into a state of supposed ethnic equality. If you believe that sentiment, then you'll find The Secret Life of Bees refreshing and heartfelt. If not, then avoid this maudlin pap all together.

I'll break you in two, child.



The Secret Life of Bees

Facts and Figures

Run time: 114 mins

In Theaters: Friday 17th October 2008

Box Office USA: $37.7M

Box Office Worldwide: $38.1M

Budget: $11M

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight

Production compaines: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 58%
Fresh: 79 Rotten: 57

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer: , Joe Pichirallo, , Ewan Leslie

Starring: as Lily Owens, as August Boatwright, as Rosaleen Daise, as May Boatwright, as June Boatwright, Sharon Morris as Violet, as T. Ray Owens, as Zach Taylor, as Deborah Owens

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

Contactmusic 2017 Exclusive

New Movies

Life Movie Review

Life Movie Review

Like a mash-up of Alien and Gravity, this ripping sci-fi horror movie is very effective...

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

The Lost City of Z Movie Review

Based on a true story, it's the historical aspect of these events that holds the...

Chips Movie Review

Chips Movie Review

It's clear from the very start that this movie has little to do with the...

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

Beauty And The Beast Movie Review

This remake of Disney's 1991 classic is remarkably faithful, using present-day digital animation effects to...

The Salesman Movie Review

The Salesman Movie Review

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi won his second Oscar with this astute drama which, like 2011's...

Get Out Movie Review

Get Out Movie Review

Leave it to a comedian to make one of the scariest movies in recent memory....

Personal Shopper Movie Review

Personal Shopper Movie Review

After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of...

Advertisement
Certain Women Movie Review

Certain Women Movie Review

In films like Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, writer-director Kelly Reichardt has told sharply...

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

After the success of 2014's Godzilla reboot, the Warner Bros monsters get their own franchise,...

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Viceroy's House Movie Review

Filmmaker Gurinder Chada (Bend It Like Beckham) draws on her own family history to explore...

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

Trespass Against Us Movie Review

With an extra dose of attitude and energy, this Irish comedy-drama hits us like a...

Logan Movie Review

Logan Movie Review

Hugh Jackman returns to his signature role one last time (so he says), reuniting with...

Patriots Day Movie Review

Patriots Day Movie Review

The third time's a charm for Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg, who previously teamed...

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

A Cure for Wellness Movie Review

It's no surprise that this creep-out horror thriller is packed with whizzy visual invention, since...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.