Akeelah and the Bee

2007-08-02 16:51
What it’s about:

Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) has a gift. She may not be the most diligent student, but she has an uncanny knack for spelling. When her principal forces her to enter the school’s spelling bee, Akeelah resists at first. After all, what use is spelling on the mean streets of South Los Angeles? It’s only when she meets an inspirational mentor, Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), that Akeelah wakes up to the world of competitive spelling.

What we thought of it:

When you say “spelling” to most people, it doesn’t exactly conjure up excitement. Most of us think of classrooms, blackboards and notes that say “35 out of 100 – disappointing”. Even in America, where competitive spelling is commonplace, it’s hard to sell a movie based around watching kids spell “Xylem” or “Pterodactyl”. But Akeelah and the Bee is the kind of wholesome, feel-good fare that makes even this unusual topic palatable.

A large part of its appeal comes, strangely enough, from the many conventions it gleefully co-opts. It turns little Akeelah’s journey into a mental version of Rocky or Glory Road, complete with training montages and inspirational speeches. It also leans heavily on the troubled-teen-and-inspirational-mentor subgenre, borrowing from everything from Stand and Deliver to Good Will Hunting.

But while it may have borrowed its structure from other movies, its heart is all its own. Writer / director Doug Atchison spent over a decade trying to get this story made, and the affection he feels for the project is clear in every frame. With his keen eye for detail and thoughtful framing, Atchison has a knack for bringing otherwise mundane scenes to life.

And his enthusiasm has clearly filtered down to the rest of the crew. Lit by journeyman Cinematographer M. David Mullen, the film has a polish not normally associated with small independent projects. This goes double for the strong score and triple for the excellent editing and unobtrusive production design. You get a sense that this is a labour of love for everyone involved – which is the whole reason independent film exists in the first place.

In the end though, it’s the cast that really makes Akeelah and the Bee worth watching. The adults are credible enough, with Laurence Fishburne putting in a finely judged performance as a reclusive professor, but the kids are the ones who steal this show.

Young Keke Palmer is every bit as talented as the girl she portrays, with expressive eyes and an easy charm that makes her very hard to dislike. J.R. Villarreal is equally delightful as Akeelah’s vivacious friend Javier, and Sean Michael plays the tragic villain with aplomb.

In case you’re wondering, the phrase “spelling bee” originates from 19th century America, when communities used to gather to perform tasks like husking corn (a “husking bee”) or compete with each other at skills like sewing (a “quilting bee”) or spelling words. Wherever they came from, spelling bees are now a serious business in North America, with televised national competitions and cash prizes.

To its credit Akeelah and the Bee concentrates on the nobility of winning, and not on the cash. This is an underdog story at its most pure – as corny and wide eyed as they come and, like Freedom Writers, we’ve seen most of it before. But look past the obvious flaws and you’ll see something special: a film that really means what it says.

- Alistair Fairweather
This feel-good mix of Finding Forrester and Spellbound may not be the first movie about spelling bees, but it's easily the most inspiring.

Nomagugu 2007/05/31 1:20 PM
The most inspiring I took all my kids (5 ages from 3 to 19) to the Premier last night to watch this Akeelah and the Bee, i must say we all came out most inspired and speechless. What a thought provoking and humorous movies, from the start to the end, we were glued to the screen, laughing, symphathising and cheering for Akeelah! Its a pity they dont make them like this often and enough
william 2007/05/31 1:52 PM
review i will remeber not to watch this, but i know you will like it hey ali,ha ha
David 2007/05/31 3:21 PM
Mr Surely that where (were) is intentional or whas it?
oscar 2007/05/31 4:37 PM
Akeela and the Bee That is brilliant movie there is only a few like it.
movie critic #1 2007/05/31 8:24 PM
AKEELA AND THE BEST This was an inspiring journy though a Los Angelos kid trying to find her place in a overwhlemed compettion it was the highlight of my career as a critic. Don't you guys remember that story of that boy who wore dresses who also entered spelling bee and won the spelling bee with his dress on , that was also an inspiring and emotional story.
movie critic #1 2007/05/31 8:30 PM
ali is not a star I believe that ali cant make decionsin her life she quoted "corny". You know who i think is corny, you guessed right you are you pathetic excuse for a critic. Freedom Writter was a good true story, but as you know you should become a waiter at a Mc.Donalds serving that guck just like you are. Havent you evan watched that movie.
I can like to be movie critic #2 2007/06/01 8:47 AM
i are cleva and review movee Dude, you can't even string a sentence together and you call yourself a critic? And here's a tip sweetie - Alistair is a BOYS name. Also, he gave both Akeellah and Freedom Writers good reviews, so what are you even on about in the first place? Idiot.
nina 2007/06/04 12:16 PM
I agree! Nice review. Wonderful story! A must see!
Sandra(lol) 2007/06/11 1:41 PM
Motivational Bee I agree with Alistair "look past the obvious flaws and you’ll see something special". A must see indeed.
Jeannette Clark 2007/09/19 9:22 AM
Akeelah and the Bee I believe the comment should read: "Were you Spellbound?"" Not "Where you spellbound". We found the movie to be absolutely delightful! Very impressive acting! We loved the movie and will be purchasing the DVD.
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