Hollywood is still abuzz with the news: “The Secret Life of Bees,” currently at The Visulite in Staunton, is a honey of a movie.
And while many films based on best-selling books are disappointing, you won’t get stung by this one.
(OK, OK. Enough with the Apoidean puns, already. No more, I promise. Stretching for them gives me the hives, anyway. Let’s start over.)
With Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, and Jennifer Hudson in the starring roles, there’s plenty of heartbreak and nobility in “The Secret Life of Bees,” a perfect example of the (rather demeaning) genre known as “chick flicks.”
But if you ignore categories, it’s the lovely tale of a young girl’s coming of age amongst a group of women in South Carolina, circa 1964.
Motherless and at the mercy of her skanky dad, Fanning flees with her pal/caregiver Hudson and ends up at the home of beekeeping sisters, headed by Latifah.
Tears, bonding, life lessons and personal growth ensue. And the bees aren’t the only ones with a secret, you’ll discover.
Frankly, I’d have liked more details about the bees themselves, but for more profundity I suggest you try Sue Monk Kidd’s novel.
It would be difficult to swallow some of the conceits of this film if the ensemble acting hadn’t been so level and sincere. But you really want to believe that a place like this, an ideal home and business where black and white folks alike could work and live together without outside interference could really exist in South Carolina back in those days.
In that sense, it is a fairy tale. So to truly enjoy the film, leave your cynicism in the lobby and just go with the flow. The cinematography is appropriately golden and the direction of Gina Prince-Blythewood is steady and well-grounded.
Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo fit in nicely as Queen Latifah’s sisters and partners, and Paul Bettany (remember him as the surgeon/sidekick in 2003’s “Master and Commander”?) gives a little depth to the character of Miss Fanning’s estranged father.
It’s a shame that more males won’t be willing to sit through this story of Southern sisterhood and female empowerment set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement. A car chase or two and a bloody shootout would have boosted the box office. Luckily, the latest James Bond fiasco is also playing hereabouts, along with the Madagascar sequel, so for a rare change there’s something for men, women and children too on local screens.
Meanwhile, back at The Dixie:
Speaking of the Madagascar sequel, it’s coming soon to the downtown Dixie in Staunton. The original voice cast is back, along with the hilarious penguin quartet and of course the hypnotic “I like to move it, move” musical infusion. Really fun animated sequels are rarer than Shrek’s teeth, but grownups will enjoy this one right along with the kids.
– Column by Carl Larsen