A review of “The Secret Life of Bees” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for adult themes and some violence

Run Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

 

 

Sue Monk Kidd’s heart-wrenching novel gets the big screen treatment along with a flawless performance courtesy eternal wunderkind Dakota Fanning.

It’s a tetchy time in the south; the Civil Rights Act has been signed into law and the climate between blacks and whites is an anxious one. For careworn adolescent Lily Owens (Fanning) the new regime has implications as she is forced to run from an abusive dad (Paul Bettany) and take to the road with black housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson).

The mismatched pair don’t get too far before landing themselves on the doorstep of the convivial South Carolina home of the sisters Boatwright; honey entrepreneur August (Queen Latifah), militant middle child June (Alicia Keyes) and “touched” sibling May (Sophie Okenedo).

While Lily’s dad makes tracks to locate his missing girl she and Rosaleen seek refuge at the Boatwrights – learning the fine art of speaking to bees and coaxing the tastiest honey from their combs.

But all is not sweetness and light. While August – the essence of empowerment -- patiently nurtures Lily into budding womanhood June resents her color and her presence and makes her displeasure known. May is simply delighted with the company, forging a tender bond with Rosaleen.

It’s all about the sisterhood but the gentlemen get their day in the sun too – June’s suffering-in-silence beau (Nate Parker) and a poignant potential love interest for fourteen year-old Lily (Tristan Wilds). Performances are first-rate across the boards, the kind of endearing ensemble turns that typically have Oscar knocking.

The book-film comparison is a ticklish one; a film needs to stand on its own merits and should not have to suffer the inevitable comparisons. Unfortunately Kidd’s affecting tome is an embarrassment of riches so no matter how you cut it the screen version of “Bees” can’t measure up, leaning too left of cloying for my savory tastes.

Yes there are sweet-as-honey moments and some effectively weepy ones as well, but show me the nuance and scratch the false sincerity. “Bees” is packed with enough scripted chestnuts and patronizing platitudes to usher in awards season with a murmur not a shout.