Starring: Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Paul Bettany, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Tristan Wilds
Directed By: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Written By: Sue Monk Kidd (novel), Gina Prince-Blythewood (screenplay)
The Secret Life of Bees is based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd. It is set in 1964 in South Carolina. The film centers on the struggles of the time with lingering tension between blacks and whites as well as telling the story of one young girl’s fear of the horrors of her past and her home life; her present nightmare.
Lily (Fanning) has had a rough childhood. It has been 10 years, since she accidentally murdered her mother (Hilarie Burton). Lily’s father, T. Ray (Bettany), was very abusive towards her and wouldn’t let her leave him. Desperate to fight against him, she tried to threaten him with a gun. When 4 year-old Lily comes across this gun she tries to save her mother, but ends up killing her instead. T. Ray is very cold, showing no affection or concern towards Lily even on her birthday. Lily is much closer to her housekeeper, Rosaleen (Hudson). One day when they go in to town so Rosaleen can register to vote now that the civil rights act has allowed this to blacks, Rosaleen gets harassed and beaten. Regardless of her being the victim she is arrested. Lily can’t stand being treated horribly and the only person that cares about her to be held for doing nothing wrong. So she breaks out Rosaleen and the two travel the road.
While they stop for food, Lily sees jars of honey with a black Mary on them. This is a significant image to her for some reason. She finds August (Latifah), the woman who makes the honey and her sisters, May (Okonedo) and June (Keys). Lily tells her that both of her parents are dead and she is on her way to stay with her aunt, but needs somewhere to stay for awhile. She tells them that they have no money, but that they can work off the board costs. Rosaleen helps with the baking while Lily works with the bees to make the honey. Lily really feels that she is the right place for the first time in her life. She feels a strong connection to these people and thinks that there might be some connection between them and her mother who she is desperate to get answers on. Lily just can’t bear the thought that she had two parents that didn’t love her and is hoping she will find the answers that will assure her ofthis. The truth might catch up with her though and drag her back to her previous life.
The acting was very strong in the film. Dakota Fanning did very well as Lily. She wore pain and guilt through her eyes, holding on to the unknown. She worked really well with all of the actors as well through the relationships she formed with the different characters. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Tristan Wilds and her. It was a little awkward as there does seem to a few years of an age gap and for the most part we aren’t used to Dakota being romantically involved. Their relationship in how they care for each other, the confidence, and inspiration they give is really strong. Also, it is presented as an authentic but awkward first love type of thing, acknowledging it is something new for them. It isn’t overdone and is pretty understated, which I think made their interactions more interesting. Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys did pretty well. Latifah played a much lighter, trusting, and affectionate character while Keys played a more stubborn and suspicious one. Sophie Okonedo did very well as the extremely emotional, May. She broke out crying many times during the film. Still this wasn’t played out and we later understand how all of the sadness was piling up on her. When she was happy though she was completely joyous.
Paul Bettany really surprised me here more than anyone though. He is harsh, emotionless, and cruel. I never would have pictured Bettany in this role, but he definitely delivered. He really brings out this man that you simply hate, yet is also able to portray a more human side to him, even if it is brief and doesn’t quite make up for everything else. He was afraid of losing Lily’s mother. Love fizzled and their fighting brought out his aggression. It is really the thought of losing her and this indeed happening that doesn’t allow him to feel anything but anger. This was a great move for Bettany that really displayed his range as an actor. I also enjoyed Hilarie Burton for the short time she was in the film as Lily’s mother. There is actually a very strong resemblance between her and Fanning.
The Secret Life of Bees doesn’t do anything drastically different with the material than similar films have done in the past. It was following a novel though and as I understand, it followed the original text very closely. It deals with the prejudice against blacks, especially regarding the rights that they had that really weren’t being granted. It also deals with black and white relationships and the difference in how society saw them and tried to break them up and how for Lily it gave her a real family, people who actually cared for her. Also the theme of guilt is displayed here very well. Murdering your mother when you were a child and being stuck with the monster she left behind can drive a kid crazy, especially since it has trapped her. There is this great desperation to know the truth about her mother, but also this immense fear that it might not be what she wants to hear. The Secret Life of Bees shows a difficult time for several people and how they are fighting the things that bring them down in life. It is a pretty good, highly emotional movie that gives us characters we can care about.