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Overall Rating

Awesome: 17.39%
Worth A Look: 33.33%
Pretty Bad: 1.45%
Total Crap: 1.45%

8 reviews, 21 user ratings

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Akeelah and the Bee
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by Erik Childress

"Far Better Than A Quote Whore Spelling Out How Wonderful This Film Is"
4 stars

It’s equally condescending (and unfortunately true) that there are very few positively-reinforced films out there for the black community. After all, there’s a certain reality that the gangsta/get rich or die tryin’ hood culture does reflect a portion of African-American society just as the hillbilly/country music lovin’ regrettably presents a constituency of white America. The recurrent problem of any inspirational film is the hokum factor which comes with trying too hard; swaying the music to a decibel level that produces tears or delivering its message with the thunderous hammer of Thor. All signs for Akeelah and the Bee pointed to little more than an after-school special blown up for the big screen. But it’s the kind of warm-hearted surprise that transcends its trappings and winds up being more Bobby Fischer than Tyler Perry.

11 year-old Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) goes to a less-than-stellar California grade school. Her father was killed five years ago, but she has a family that does their best to rise above the neighborhood’s faults. Mom (Angela Bassett) works hard as a nurse, her sister is a single mom who appears to have everything under control except her baby’s crying, her oldest brother is in the air force but the younger one has the street attitude which has him roaming with the wrong crowd. Akeelah tries staying under the radar at school, skipping classes at times, but has a talent that her teachers and principal recognize great potential for. She’s one helluva speller.

Mr. Welch (Curtis Armstrong), looking out for Akeelah as well as a school only looked upon by the legislature if their aptitude impresses, recommends her to old college friend, Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) a teacher and language expert who in the day once won the national spelling bee himself. He agrees to take on Akeelah if she will adapt from her “ghetto talk” and speak properly. In her rise through the rounds of the state finals, Akeelah will meet Javier (J.R. Villarreal), a jovial Woodland Hills student who becomes a fast friend introducing her to the casual luxuries of going to a good school in a good neighborhood and Dylan (Sean Michael), the nefarious rival speller living under the strict study habits of his father (Tzi Ma).

So, you’ve heard the one about the black kid, the Mexican and the Asian who went to the spelling bee? Well, neither has this film which doesn’t concentrate on racial stereotypes and Lord knows it could have noting those who have been emblematic of reaching the Scripps finals on ESPN. (In fact, one of the few missteps the film makes is having Dylan’s father chastise him for being challenged by a “little black girl.”) Where the contestants though are allowed to start over without correcting what they’ve already spelled, writer/director Doug Atchison (whose last film The Pornographer was about a very different kind of home schooling) gets a reprieve by reconciling clichés such as the parent who won’t let the child realize their dream and the evil competitor who should just walk around with a jerk tattoo on his forehead with scenes of remarkable clarity and warmth.

Fishburne, outwardly channeling his cultural professor from Higher Learning, does stellar work here with the young Keke Palmer (who is going to be finding herself on a few lists for “breakthrough performance” by the end of the year.) Equal parts Miyagi/LaRusso and Kingsley/Pomeranc, Fishburne’s teacher doesn’t just cudgel with letter sequences but with the history of language and its importance to communities that have been stripped of their voices. It’s not preachy, but educational – which itself is an endangered word in both society and our films. The pattern to which Akeelah draws from to stimulate her memory could have come off as corny (especially when she does it for the TV cameras), but it’s daintily orchestrated and no stranger than the covered mouth whispers, air writing or screaming from the E-U-N-Y-M girl we’ve seen in years past. Atchison’s script feels so unforced that we even accept the local head banger (Eddie Steeples) offering Akeelah help faster than you can say “Hey, Crabman.”

[i]Akeelah and the Bee[/i] addresses several issues with subtlety and never gets bogged down in the subplots which help define each of its characters beyond synthetic labels of race or mere teacher, student or parent. Akeelah shares multiple relationships in the film and each have their own bond, importance and pureness. There’s a marvelously funny and touching moment when Javier must act quickly (or slowly) to save Akeelah’s place in one of the tournaments. Searching for Bobby Fischer is in its own master class when it comes to films about C-level “sports” and Spellbound will remain the definitive film about the national Scripps competition, but Akeelah and the Bee is nearly its narrative equal. As an avid watcher of the yearly event, my dark side relentlessly has me rooting against the home schooled robots and it was great to find the same tension while finding something to root for in both the film’s protagonists and their rivals. The crime is that Akeelah and the Bee may struggle to make a quarter of what was achieved at the box office by Tyler Perry’s atrociously ill-conceived Madea films (released by the same studio, Lions Gate, distributing this, so here’s hoping they will give this fine film the proper push with audiences.) Doug Atchison doesn’t play down to the black community like Perry’s Z-level chitlin theater, but rises up with the positivity of friendship, family and learning. I for one don’t see anything condescending in that.

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originally posted: 04/28/06 14:10:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/02/11 Mary It is so awesome..everybody should watch this... 5 stars
10/08/07 lily wow i loved it i seriosly did it was great well done 5 stars
9/14/07 Tracy Great movie, great actors 5 stars
8/16/07 chosha I'm with Staci. You missed the point, and some excellent themes, well-rendered. 5 stars
4/29/07 David Pollastrini pretty dull 3 stars
4/14/07 Hugh jass It was total crap 1 stars
11/06/06 anitamich Is there a more perfect movie than this one? I don't think so! 5 stars
10/21/06 Tanya Grays wonderful, for all ages 5 stars
10/16/06 Jim Morpheus gives Akeelah the red pill and she wakes up in Washington DC 4 stars
9/25/06 Lisa Craven Loved seeing Fisbourne and Bassett together again. Keke is a rising star, too. 4 stars
6/12/06 Heather Laurence Fishburne is amazing, great movie 5 stars
6/10/06 Ally Wow! I've never been more proud to be a Spelling Bee champion in my life! Empowering! 5 stars
5/24/06 Cindy Formula plot but with a nice twist at the end. Good for an underdog takes all pix. 3 stars
5/19/06 Staci Goss doesn't get it. This movie is NEEDED for the Black community. My girls and I loved it! 5 stars
5/16/06 Julie J LOVED IT!! What a feel good movie 5 stars
5/14/06 K. Pearlman Sorry , this one does not tappeal -reality is closer than it appears.... 2 stars
5/13/06 millersxing Inspires folks to overcome social pressures and dream big. 4 stars
5/08/06 Victoria Akeelah and the Bee was great and i think that everyone should see it. 5 stars
5/07/06 Mase If you can't stomach watching a far supieror documentary "spellbound", this will do. 4 stars
4/23/06 D T Hutchinson Awesome, awesome, film. This is the best feel good movies thus far this year. 5 stars
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  28-Apr-2006 (PG)
  DVD: 29-Aug-2006



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