May 12, 2006
Akeelah and the Bee
The first film produced by Starbucks Entertainment, Akeelah and the Bee tells the story of a young girl from South Los Angeles with an incredible talent for spelling words. Though predictable and sometimes overly sentimental, I found this film encouraging and especially eloquent about the cultural importance of language.
Akeelah's principal, in order to prove that his underfunded public school is capable of high achievement, encourages her to enter the school spelling bee. From there, her natural talent meets with intense coaching from Laurence Fishburne to bring her all the way to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. She quickly becomes a media sensation, carrying the ambitions of her entire community with her in her pursuit of excellence.
There is nothing groundbreaking about this film aesthetically, but the lack of flashy filmmaking focuses attention on the story. Keke Palmer, the twelve-year-old actress who plays the title role, demonstrates impressive energy and maturity. Still, I consider the best performance to be Angela Bassett's as Akeelah's mother, who is initially uninterested in the bee but eventually becomes her daughter's most dedicated supporter.
I do not hesitate to recommend this film to all audiences. Adults may find themselves unconvinced by the film's simplified conclusions, but it is nevertheless uplifting. Additionally, Fishburne's character provides an important lesson by insisting on Akeelah's use of proper English, suggesting that adhering to established rules engenders success. In the end, Akeelah and the Bee is a pleasant family film, appealing for its simplicity as much as for its admirable message.