Sunday, September 03, 2006

AKEELAH AND THE BEE

Keke Palmer Akeelah and the Bee Directed by Doug Atchison
Starring Keke Palmer
Reviewed by Byron Merritt


THUMBS UP!

THUMBS UP FILM REVIEW RATING!

Learning to like yourself is one of the toughest things to do. Becoming good, or great, at your natural talents should be an ultimate goal. Such is the life lesson of AKEELAH AND THE BEE.

When 11-year-old Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) turns in her homework for English class, she always receives a high grade, even though she rarely studies (or so she says). Prior to his shooting death, her father had instilled in her a love of language by challenging her at Scrabble. She often speaks to his picture that sits propped on her desk, a reminder of pleasant times. But pleasant times haven’t been around the Anderson household for some time. Mother Tanya (Angela Bassett) works full time while trying to support her children, one of which is being sucked into the world of drug dealers. Akeelah is being harassed at school by those who notice her differences. They call her "freak" and demand she do their English homework. So when principal Welch (Curtis Armstrong) pressures Akeelah into the school’s spelling bee contest, our young heroine is less than willing. She doesn’t want others to call her names, too, or gain any sort of confirmation that she’s "different". But Akeelah has talent. Her mind is a sponge. She just needs the right motivation to set her on the path of self discovery.

Enter Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), a retired UCLA professor. He’s also experienced loss not long ago. His young daughter died and his wife left him. So when Akeelah shows up, he’s less than accepting of her. But the two form a teacher/student relationship and quickly learn much about each other ...above and beyond spelling words.

Dr. Larabee helps launch Akeelah toward the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington DC (aired on ESPN), and it is here that we see Akeelah’s talents take wing. Battling over 100 other contestants, Akeelah has deeper motivations at the tournament than just winning.

Although smaltzy and predictable, Akeelah and the Bee has a great message: not denying who you are. The typical hero’s journey infuses the script, something we’ve seen millions of times (from
ROCKY to HARRY POTTER). But the shining light for the film is young Keke herself. Her emotional range is astonishing for such a young actress, playing right up to the level of co-stars Bassett and Fishburne.

Without a doubt, the documentary
SPELLBOUND aided in this movie’s success. And although Spellbound had a lot more realism in it, Akeelah and the Bee matches it well from a fictionalized perspective.

This film’s a winner even with its predictability and common plot.

Click here for the Akeelah and the Bee movie trailer!

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