The Secret Life of Bees

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Some time ago, Dorothy Doremus reviewed The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd for G-POP.net.  I was intrigued by the storyline and so, when a movie was made based on the book, I was interested in checking it out.

            The Secret Life of Bees takes place in South Carolina in 1964 and stars child actor phenom Dakota Fanning as Lily Owens, a fourteen year old girl whose only memory of her mother was one of the most tragic moments in her life.  As a toddler of four, Dakota accidentally took her motherís life.  The guilt behind this tragic moment and her despair at a lack of relationship with her father leads Lily to ask a great many questions about who her mother was and what exactly she had been planning to do the day she died.  All she has left of her mother is a photograph, a pair of gloves and a picture of a black Virgin Mary with the words Tiburon, SC inscribed on the back.

            Caregiver and peach plantation employee Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) is Lilyís only friend, so when she gets into trouble for rebelling against some trouble-seeking white men in town, Lily helps Rosaleen escape.  Lily heads for the only place she can think of - Tiburon, South Carolina - a town she hopes will both provide a safe place for Rosaleen and some information regarding Lilyís mother.

            She learns that the picture of the black Virgin Mary is actually the logo of the makers of the best honey manufactured in the area.  Certain that her mother had known them, Lily heads off to the Boatwright sistersí home.  She is unprepared for the greeting she receives and the willingness of these sisters to take in complete strangers with very few questions asked.  All seems well, until another tragic event involving Lily leads her to believe that she is someone who doesnít deserve to be loved.  Can the Boatwright sisters convince Lily that she is wrong?  Will she ever learn of her motherís connection to them?

            The Secret Life of Bees is a dramatic film with some excellent acting from some unlikely sources.  I expected terrific work from Queen Latifah who portrays August Boatwright.  I believe that Queen Latifahís acting often goes overlooked and people donít realize just how much range she truly has.  This is a woman that can do comedy as convincingly as drama and yet she gets very little attention or praise for her work.  And, of course, Dakota Fanning is amazing in her role, but I have never seen a film in which Dakota Fanning wasnít believable in her portrayal no matter what the subject matter.

            The surprises came from singers Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keyes.  I know Jennifer Hudson received a great deal of praise for her role in Dreamgirls, but I never realized what a great actress she was until I saw her in this film.  And Alicia Keyes - who knew this woman could act!  Her portrayal of the angry Boatwright sister, June, was excellent.  Angry at her situation in life and angry at events from her past, June is the least excepting of Lily Owens for her own personal reasons. 

            Also starring in the film are Sophie Okonedo as the emotionally disturbed May Boatwright, Tristen Wilds as Zach, a young man working for the Boatwrights with dreams of eventually becoming a lawyer and Paul Bettany as T. Ray Owens, the bitter father of Lily Owens.  All three are very convincing in their roles.

            I found The Secret Life of Bees to be extremely enjoyable, despite its differences from the novel.  My friend tells me that the novel goes into certain things in more detail.  For instance, the book delves deeper into the Civil Rights movement and the meaning of the black Virgin Mary found on every jar of Boatwright honey.  However, having never read the novel, I didnít miss these things. 

             For me, this was a well-told story that left me wondering about the rest of the charactersí lives after the movie.  How would the events that take place in the film affect Lilyís growth into womanhood?  Would Zach achieve his dream of becoming a lawyer?  What kind of wife would June make and would she stay on in the honey business or would she expand her horizons by taking her music abroad?  The movie has inspired me to read the book and I sincerely hope that if these questions are not answered in the novel, Sue Monk Kidd has a sequel up her sleeve. 

            The Secret Life of Bees is a coming of age movie with a bit of a mystery to solve.  The acting is amazing and the storyline credible.  The characters will definitely capture your attention and hold it long after the film is done.  This is a movie well worth seeing.


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