Akeelah and the Bee
Genre: Kids & Family
Runtime: 1 hr 52 min
MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Doug Atchison
Starring: Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Curtis Armstrong, J. R. Villareal, Eddie Steeples
The movie takes us into the world of competitive spelling among middle school students.
Review by: SteveRhodes
Added: 7 years ago
Spell "schmaltzy." And if you want to hear it used in a sentence, you could say, "AKEELAH AND THE BEE is an uplifting film about a ghetto child who makes good, but the script is marred by several extremely contrived and needlessly schmaltzy moments." By writer and director Doug Atchison (THE PORNOGRAPHER), the movie takes us into the world of competitive spelling among middle school students. If the plot sounds familiar, it should. The Oscar-nominated documentary SPELLBOUND covered the exact same ground but with more honesty and drama. It was both riveting and believable, two characteristics that come and go like ocean tides in AKEELAH AND THE BEE. The infuriating script contains a couple of moments that had me literally crying aloud, "Oh, come on!" because they were such disingenuous and self-serving plot devices.
Now that I've got that off of my chest, AKEELAH AND THE BEE is a mostly compelling and touching film if you can ignore its infrequent but painful flaws. In a sweet performance certain to get her many more contracts, Keke Palmer plays eleven-year-old Akeelah Anderson. She comes to be coached by and bonds with Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), a man with a hidden but easy to guess secret that has so scarred his life than he has given up his faculty position at UCLA.
When we first meet Akeelah, she is a great speller who gets 100 on her spelling tests without even studying. She has no interest in the spelling bee at her school, but, after accidentally turning to ESPN at the precise moment -- another of the story's infuriatingly fortuitous moments -- when the new national champion spells the winning word, she sets her heart on winning at the Nationals.
Her mother (Angela Bassett) not only misses going to her early meets, she refuses to even let her daughter participate in the "silly game." Of course, the mother will change her mind just in the nick of time. The mother's actions are likely to make you angry at her, but you should direct your emotions instead to the manipulative script, which offers too many unbelievable moments. Don't even get me started on the ending, which shares some of the same flaws of logical credibility with STICK IT. The two films will be competing at the box office this weekend, which is ironic, since STICK IT's main message is that the idea of competition and judging isn't fair. But I digress.
As Akeelah works hard to "go up against a bunch of rich white kids," racism raises its ugly head on several occasions. In one of the most blatant incidents, the father of Dylan (Sean Michael) sternly lectures his son about not letting himself be beaten by some inner city black kid. Dylan and his father are Asian Americans who have a strict all-work-and-no-play agenda. Dylan's father always sits stoically with his hands crossed during spelling meets and, while never applauding, gives dagger eyes to Dylan, which suggests death comes to those who fail. In one of movie's best moments, Akeelah takes on Dylan, also a Scrabble expert, in a very competitive game of Scrabble during a birthday party.
Flaws and all, AKEELAH AND THE BEE is worth seeing, but SPELLBOUND is so much better.
AKEELAH AND THE BEE runs too long at 1:52. It is rated PG for "some language" and would be acceptable for kids of all ages.