Friday, October 31, 2008

Can You Keep A Secret?

The Secret Life of Bees

Secrets are abound in “The Secret Life of Bees” the film adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s novel of the same name. It seems everyone in this film has something to hide. Yet the greatest secret of all is how painfully slow the latter half of this film is. Set in the racially charged south of 1964, Lily (Dakota Fanning) lives on a peach farm with her abusive father (Paul Bettany) and caregiver Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). Lily is haunted by a vague, yet disturbing, memory of her dead mother. Yet the more Lily tries to make sense of these visions, the more strenuous Lily’s relationship with her father gets. Lily finally reaches her breaking point when Rosaleen is been violently beating by local bigots, and her father refuses to stand up for the caregiver. With nothing more than an old picture to guide them, Lily and Rosaleen run away to a small South Carolina town that might hold the answers to her mother’s past. Taken in by the honey-making Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo), Lily must unlock the secrets to her past in order to establish her future.

It is the scenes at the Boatwright sisters’ house where “The Secret Life of Bees” is both interesting and equally frustrating. This is manly due to the fact that director Gina Prince-Bythewood tries to cram too much from the book onto the screen. As a result, many of the story threads are never fully flushed out. A good example can be found in the characters of Rosaleen and June (Keys). Rosaleen is pretty much non-existent in the second half of the film. Her change through the course of the film hardly registers at the end. June is reduced to a one-note character, whose anger comes off as petty. Even the spiritual aspect of the film does not have the same emotional impact that it should for this type of film. Gina Prince-Bythewood has proven with “Love and Basketball” that she is a talent director who knows how to flesh out characters. Yet by cramming so much into this film, she not only makes the film feel longer than it is, but she actually stunts the characters development as well. The cast does a decent job with what they are given, the standouts being Fanning, Okonedo, and Latifah. Still had they not tried so hard to remain faithful to the original text, “The Secret Life of Bees” might have actually turned into a great film instead of a barely passable one.

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