"Akeelah and the Bee"
Directed by Doug Hutchison.
Written by Doug Hutchison.
Starring Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, J.R. Villarreal and
Release Year: 2006
Review Date: 5/15/06
You know what's coming, but if your
execution is flawless, it's still fun to watch. Such is the
case with "Akeelah and the Bee", which takes "feel-good movie" to a
new level by combining the recent interest in the National Spelling
Bee with a grounded story featuring one girl's rise to the top.
Keke Palmer plays Akeelah, an 11-year-old
living in a rough neighborhood in Southern California and attending
a school that is of the run-down variety; the school administrators,
led by Principal Welch (Curtis Armstrong), are more worried about
getting better school programs than they are with the silly fact
that the girls' bathroom stalls don't have any doors. She has
a natural talent with spelling but suppresses it amongst her
classmates for fear that she will be exposed as a geek; she even
skips classes to try & give the impression that she's really just
another one of the kids.
All of that changes when Welch and a few
other teachers push Akeelah to rein in that spelling talent and
enter the school spelling bee, and from there, she attempts to ride
all the way to the national finals in D.C. with the help of a
spelling coach with a past (Laurence Fishburne) and her hard-working
single mom (Angela Bassett), who initially thinks Akeelah should
just skip the whole shebang.
Even though I had seen
had been captivated by that documentary's drama based on the lives
of the kids that competed, I didn't feel like the material in "Akeelah
and the Bee" was retread because of the relationship between Akeelah
and her coach. Fishburne--essentially playing his
now-legendary mentor role of Morpheus from "The Matrix" in a much
less violent capacity--helps Akeelah understand language in a
variety of different ways; Palmer is solid as the center of the
storm. All of the performances here are great, from the adults
(highlighted by the always-great Tzi Ma as the father of one of the
other spellers) to the kids, mainly Akeelah's impossibly-nice friend
Javier (J.R. Villarreal) and her nemesis, Dylan (Sean Michael).
The pacing is also excellent, because in a
film where you know that Akeelah is somehow going to end up in the
nationals, you might have a tendency to get a little anxious waiting
for the inevitable...writer/director Doug Hutchison (whose only
other film credit is something called "The Pornographer"...wow,
could this be ANY more different???) does a great job integrating
the familiar family/class African-American story with the drama of
spelling ridiculously-hard words correctly. Stringing the
story out over the course of a year, we get a number of spelling
competitions, plus glimpses at the home life, Akeelah's struggles
with her friends given newfound celebrity, light conversation about
race, and some of the science behind trying to learn enough words to
have a shot at winning the title.
And, "Akeelah and the Bee" features nothing
objectionable, almost no violence, no foul language. It's just
about the perfect family film, and it helps that it is particularly
well-made. Check it out!
Rating: Opening Weekend
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard