Monday, September 08, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2008)

Gina Prince-Bythewood finally follows up her debut Love and Basketball with The Secret Life of Bees, a disappointing, deep-fried batch of clichéd characters and manipulative tearjerking. Set in South Carolina, during the first days of mandatory integration, this coming-of-age story leaves few Southern clichés unexploited. It follows a 14-year-old girl (Dakota Fanning), as she flees her abusive father and ends up bunking with a group of wholly empowered black women.

Too simple-minded to seem sincere, Bees wastes no energy in making sure the audience can’t help but side with it. From its too-obvious musical montages (which seem designed to sell CDs instead of support the story), to its pre-determined attitudes toward each of its characters, to its trite philosophy lessons delivered via Queen Latifah, the movie is self-aware and aware of its own supposed importance. Fanning seems like a grounding presence through all of this hand-wringing, forced bonding, and pontificating, but in her most dramatic scenes, she tends toward the shrill. Although she is playing a character who is supposedly destined to be a great writer, she gives little evidence of depth, instead only whining incessantly about her mommy and daddy issues. Sure to reap plenty of Image Awards next year (one forward-thinking character even wears an NAACP t-shirt), the film is nothing if not marketable. Ironically, in its pre-digested judgments of its villains, who never reveal much additional texture, it is as biased as any of the bigots it attacks.

Rating: 43/100


Adam said...

I love that you couldn't resist predicting some Image Awards.

Anonymous said...

were you even paying attention to the movie, dakota fanning's character fleeing from her husband?

Jeremy Heilman said...

Haha, that movie sounds better. I wish I saw it instead.

Anonymous said...

We obviously watched different movies and read different novels. First of all, the award winning book that this movie is based on is award winning for a reason. And the adaptation is so true to the book, that any problem you have with the movie, you must also have with Mrs. Kidd's novel. Yes, the character wore a NAACP shirt, for goodness sake she was registering people to vote in the segregated south and was a hell fire for the cause, just like the character in the book. Wow, this book is written by a white woman, directed by a bi-racial woman raised by white parents (read today's LA Times review) and portrayed by cast members of all races and the best you can come up with is your line about "Image Awards?" Typical. I'll think of you when this film is considered for an Oscar.