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Akeelah and the Bee

Akeelah and the Bee

What She said:

She

Are you in the mood for a heartwarming family film?  Then Akeelah and the Bee should be right up your alley.  After a spat of disappointing movies lately, I was happy to watch this film, which helped to lighten my mood around the holidays.

The movie tells the story of little Akeelah, a feisty 11 year old growing up in one of the roughest areas of Los Angeles.  Her single mother is struggling to take care of her and her siblings.  She has one older brother who is trying to make something of himself as a pilot, and another who is heading down the less desired but all-too-common path of street life and gangs.  Akeelah falls somewhere in between.  She is extremely gifted, particularly when it comes to English and spelling, but she has already gotten into the habit of skipping school to hang out with friends.  She’s ashamed of her intelligence because some of the other students make fun of her for it, and so they shuns the idea of outwardly appearing as a smart kid.  But Akeelah cannot help the fact that she loves spelling, something that she picked up from her now deceased father.  When she sees the Scripps National Spelling Bee on TV, she immediately makes it her goal to get there and win.  Trouble is, it’s a very long and arduous journey, especially for a girl like her who already faces a great deal of adversity.  Akeelah teams up with a struggling ex-college professor, who acts as her coach, and strives to reach the top.  She makes new friends along the way, but also learns some important lessons about the sacrifices one must make for the sake of greatness.

Akeelah is a remarkable girl.  She’s clearly kind-hearted but also has a little bit of sass.  That’s what I like about her.  While she’s still quite young, she’s already burdened by issues that older children must confront and does not have the luxury of being sheltered.  Her mother, played by Angela Bassett, seems outright exhausted, and I do feel for her.  But she also has her own prejudices that seem to hold Akeelah back.  I like that this movie presents some very real scenarios—dealing with preconceived notions, overcoming status, and pursuing one’s dreams.

Akeelah and the Bee

And then we’ve got Dr. Larabee, played by Laurence Fishburne.  He has his own demons, and while he genuinely wants to help Akeelah, he struggles with the notion.  While he is rough around the edges, the influence that he has on Akeelah is profound, and you’ll grow to like him.  He’s just the right kind of awkward with her.  Just as Dr. Larabee helps Akeelah, she also helps him, aiding him as he moves beyond his past and takes control of his life.

I really enjoyed the story here, and found the whole movie to be uplifting.  The acting, especially on the part of then relative newcomer Keke Palmer as Akeelah, was quite good.  The supporting performances of Fishburne and Bassett were also memorable.  I really enjoyed the characters in this film and the way that they each grow.  Everyone had their own reasons for wanting Akeelah to succeed, many of which were somewhat self-serving, but they all also genuinely cared about this girl and her future.  The entire community gets behind her, even if she does go counter to what they are used to and what they believe in.  It’s just nice to support a young girl as she reaches for her dreams.

Honestly, there was so much that was cliché about this film.  And the plot was overall pretty darn predictable.  I almost felt like a Lifetime movie; however the production quality was a notch higher.  But the movie works so hard to charm that I’m able to overlook all this and just appreciate the warmth and richness that the film brings to the table.  It’s nice to have a family film that makes you feel good, even if you can see the ending coming a mile away.  Once and a while, you need a movie like Akeelah and the Bee to inspire some positive sentiment about the current state of the world around us.

Thumbs up.

Akeelah and the Bee

 

What He said:

He

Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) is a bright kid who doesn’t apply herself. She skips classes occasionally, doesn’t always do her homework, but often does well on her tests; spelling in particular. This gets the attention of both her teacher and principal. Akeelah seems to be exceptionally smart for a student at Crenshaw Middle School.

Crenshaw is about to host its first ever spelling bee. The school is trying to improve its image, get more funding, etc., and Principal Welch (Curtis Armstrong) figures on the off chance they can actually send a kid to the regional spelling bee, it might lead to more resources for the school. He and Akeelah’s teacher reluctantly convince her to give it a shot.

The reason she didn’t want to do it was because being a smart kid in that environment makes her a rarity and that makes her stand out; which is never good when you’re a kid. A few of the other kids tease her for being smart and even try to make her do their homework.

It comes as no surprise that she wins the school spelling bee. She’s easily the brightest kid there. Principal Welch thinks she has even more potential though and brings in one of his old colleagues. Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) is a college professor who is currently on sabbatical, but has experience with “the bee”. He was a former participant, placed fairly high, and is just a smart guy in general. He gives Akeelah a small test and agrees she has potential.  He agrees to be her coach.

Akeelah and the Bee

They don’t exactly hit it off. He thinks she is rude and acts dumber than she is to fit in with her peers. She thinks he’s a big meanie (he does kind of have a stick up his ass). The two part ways during their first training session, but later reunite when she’s one of 10 kids to place in the regionals to contualify for national one in Washington D.C. (you know the one you see on ESPN with the weird kids who do things when they go up to the mic).

More problems arise for Akeelah when she finds out she has to go to summer school. Remember earlier when I said she was smart, but didn’t do her homework? Well it finally caught up to her. Her mother (played by Angela Basset) is furious and says she has to stop all activities involving the bee. Akeelah is very upset about this, but continues to compete and study behind her mother’s back.

She also has some issues with her best friend Georgia (Sahara Garey). She starts off happy for Akeelah’s success, but becomes jealous of all the attention she’s getting an new friends she is making.

On the bright side, she is making new friends. Some of the kids she met through the regional spelling bee – and from other parts of town – have made friends with her. She forms a close friendship with a kid named Javier (J.R. Villarreal) in particular. The two really seem to hit it off, despite being from completely different walks of life.

She also makes some new enemies. One of the kids from the rich part of town is a very smart, cold, and competitive kid named Dylan (Sean Michael Afable) . I’m not giving anything away by telling you he’s her main competition (it’s rather obvious from the get go).

Akeelah must figure out a way to balance all these things.
I have to say that this movie is somewhat predictable, but damn is it heartwarming. You’ve got cranky old professors (Fishburne) and cute little girls (Palmer) serving as something of an off couple. You’ve got the whole inner city kids mixing with more well off suburban kids. The movie just has a lot of nice messages from top-to-bottom. It’s a really cute little movie with an uplifting message.

Keke Palmer was just a kid in this, but she was great. I know she had her own show on Disney, but I’m surprise she hasn’t had more movie roles, because she showed a lot of poise as a kid. Fishburne is as good as ever in his mentor role; which he has proven time-and-time again he’s quite good at. Speaking of portraying a familiar role, Angela Basset is also good as Akeelah’s strong-willed, hard-working, and a little bitch mother. The kids playing her friends (and enemy) were also solid. There is very good chemistry in this movie.

Rating: thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on January 5, 2014.

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