The Secret Life of Bees
Review by Jack Foley
AS HONEY coated as its premise suggests, The Secret Life of Bees is one for the chick flick brigade that fails to live up to some of the darkness hinted at in its early scenes.
Dakota Fanning stars as Lily, a child still coming to terms with the fact that she accidentally shot her mum as a pre-teen and is now forced to live with her cruel and racist father (Paul Bettany). Running away with her cook (Jennifer Hudson) in tow, Lily finds solace with the black, bee-keeping Boatman sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo) and gradually finds new meaning to her life in their company.
But as racial tensions simmer, tragedy is never far away… and nor is the past, as the Boatmans have unexpected links to Lily’s mother’s past.
Based on the popular novel by Sue Monk Kidd, Gina Prince-Bythewood’s film is well performed and beautifully shot but fails to leave the lasting emotional impression that a good weepie really should.
Rather, it feels contrived and overly sweet, putting forward life lessons that are seldom in doubt and a resolution you can comfortably predict from a long way off.
It’s a shame because the first quarter of proceedings offers some much needed grit, and thrives on the intense battle of wills that exists between the excellent Bettany (a troubled soul not looking for forgiveness) and his feisty daughter.
But once Lily escapes her father’s clutches, Prince-Bythewood lays on the feel-good qualities and over-eggs the tragedies lying in wait.
Okonedo fares particularly badly but the likes of Latifah and Keys work hard without really being given that much to do. Fanning, as we’ve come to expect, delivers a mature performance that belies her tender years.
The Secret Life of Bees is therefore a disappointing movie that could have done with a little more bravery. As things stand, viewers may be stung by just how much it plays things to formula for this type of movie.
Running time: 110mins
UK DVD Release: March 30, 2009
- Buy it on DVD (Amazon)
- Read our review
- Paul Bettany interview
- Gina Prince-Bythewood and Lauren Shuler Donner interview