The Secret Life of Bees

October 23, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson
Directed by: Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”)
Written by: Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”)

Dakota Fanning’s no longer the cutie-patootie we all remember from movies like “I Am Sam” and “Uptown Girls.” She’s all grown up with a bright future still ahead of her. Luckily, it seems the beginning of her journey through adolescence will not follow the same path as Haley Joel Osment in “Secondhand Lions.” After “The Secret Life of Bees” Fanning is sure to find more acting work.

In “Bees,” Fanning plays Lily Owens, a young girl living in South Carolina in 1964 who runs away from home to find the truth about her deceased mother. Traveling with her nanny Rosaleen (Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson), who she helps escape from police after they arrest her for a run-in with some short-tempered racists, Lily is determined to know more about her mother’s life before Lily, at the age of four, accidentally shoots and kills her.

It’s a heavy burden to live with knowing you are responsible for your own mother’s death, but deep down Lily believes there is more to the story. It’s a story, unfortunately, her emotionally abusive and neglectful father (Paul Bettany) refuses to tell her. Without any real memories of her mother, all Lily has left is a pair of her white gloves and a photo with the word “Tiburon” printed on the back. Tiburon turns out to be a small town in South Carolina, so, on a whim, Lily and Rosaleen hitch a ride to see what a change in locale has in store for them.

In Tiburon, they find the home of the Boatwright sisters: June (Alicia Keys), May (Academy Award nominee Sophie Okonedo), and August (Academy Award nominee Queen Latifah), who are well known in the South for the amazing honey they produce as beekeepers. Here, Lily and Rosaleen make a temporary home by telling little white lies so the Boatwrights will allow them to stay in their guest house.

Once safe inside their new home (or metaphorical beehive) director/screenwriter Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”) is able to effectively capture the emotional struggles the women are experiencing in their personal lives and during an era where hatred is consistent. We especially see that in Okonedo’s May, whose hypersensitivity always gets the best of her. This character reminded me a lot of Wes Bentley’s persona in “American Beauty” because of how they both wear their hearts on their sleeves. While Bentley’s Ricky Fitts becomes choked up with all the beauty there is in the world, May reacts the same way to all of life’s drawbacks.

Yes, the film does pull at the heartstrings, but not in a contriving or melodramatic way. Instead, the ensemble cast of “Bees” depicts some powerful characteristics and does so without overstating their motives. It’s a breath of fresh air when we see real African American characters that mean something more than the cliché, thoughtless material Tyler Perry usually flings at us twice a year.

Sex and the City: The Movie

May 25, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon
Directed by: Michael Patrick King (TV’s “Sex and the City”)
Written by: Michael Patrick King (TV’s “Sex and the City”)

After keeping women everywhere at bay for four years since the HBO series came to an end, everyone’s favorite New York City girls are back with more emotional issues than before in the film version of “Sex and the City.”

Where the TV series was charming, witty, and as light as yogurt, “Sex” at the cinema can wear you down like a triple cheeseburger sitting in your small intestine. Unless you are an estrogen-filled super fan who would maim their girlfriends over a designer handbag, skip the martinis and instead buy the $200 pink felt-covered collector’s giftset. At least then you can remember the ladies as they were in those fabulous six TV seasons. Although the names and problems basically stay the same, there is less spirit and story spread over the movie’s 135-minute mini-marathon.

In the film, the always lovable and neurotic Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) reunites with hopeless romantic Charlotte York (Kristin Davis), sexualized cougar Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall), and practical redhead Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) for her extravagant wedding to Mr. Big (Chris Noth).

But when Big gets cold feet (or whatever you would call what happens during those ridiculous scenes where he doesn’t show up for the wedding), the ladies must lean on each other for support as each of them (with the exception of Charlotte whose life is picture perfect) find themselves facing a new set of relationship problems.

Written and directed by TV series regular Michael Patrick King, “Sex in the City,” when compared to the show, lacks thematically. It’s not the length the film runs that is bothersome. It’s that King can’t seem to find anything to fill the space with other than scenes of self-pity. When the girls do finally come around and realize they’re supposed to be having fun, it’s far too late to save any of them.

King simply flattens the characters instead of broadening them for the big screen. All the girls are the same, which might be great for avid fans, but bland for others who were hoping for more from the screenplay. It’s been four years and the foursome hasn’t changed in the slightest. That might be nice to hear for Manolo Blahnik lovers but not for women who like their female empowering heroes built with a little less desperation.