There are two types of films about civil rights and race issues: those that underplay it, but still manage to make certain the audience finds the message, and those that beat audiences over the head about how important the issue should be to them. “The Secret Life of Bees” is one of the latter.
Hoping to escape her abusive father and learn more about her deceased mother, Lily (Dakota Funning) runs away with her housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). Working with only a few of her mother’s keepsakes, Lily is able to locate her mother’s old friend, August Boatwright (Queen Latifah), who runs a bee farm with her two eccentric sisters June and May (Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo).
The sisters help fight the social and racial issues of 1964 South Carolina while also dealing with personal matters. Throughout the trying times, the women remain strong, thanks to their belief in the Black Madonna, a statue of the Virgin Mary that resides in their living room.
Based on Sue Monk Kidd’s 2002 best selling novel, “The Secret Life of Bees” is unfortunately a bad adaptation. The film tries to recreate the easiness of the peaceful summer nights – a concept that probably worked well through narration but plays out slow and boring on film.
When the film does begin dealing with civil rights issues, it can’t help but beat them over the audiences’ head. Triumphant music swells and the actresses overact by delivering supposedly empowering speeches.
Director Gina Prince Bythewood might as well scream “this part is important, damnit!” Despite these flaws, you’d have to be a pretty awful person to not feel for these characters and experience sadness at some point in the film.
Leading lady Fanning holds her own amongst elder co-stars. I have to admit I always thought she would eventually hit her awkward middle-school years and disappear for a while, but at 14 years old she shows maturity and talent beyond her age.
Hopefully “The Secret Life of Bees” was a good book, because the film adaptation’s extremely slow-moving and heavy-handed plot never allow it to be entertaining.