"Even if you hate the Starbucks shilling, this is still pretty enjoyable"
For all you parents out there who have had to sit through the useless likes of “Ice Age 2" or “The Wild” in the last few weeks, your prayers have been answered–a family-oriented film that is equally exciting and entertaining for viewers of all ages.It is “Akeelah and the Bee” and it tells the inspiring story of Akeelah (newcomer Keke Palmer), a 12-year-old girl from South Central L.A. with a gift for spelling–one inherited from her late father that she would prefer to keep under wraps to prevent being ostracized for being a brain. Against her will, she is entered in her school’s spelling bee and when she wins, she embarks on a path that leads her to the Scripps National Spelling Bee championship in Washington D.C. Along the way, she receives guidance and wisdom from a former professor (Laurence Fishburne) who becomes her coach, mentor and surrogate father figure. Additionally, her entire community–family, friends and strangers alike–begin to unite behind her as she advances further in the competition–if she can succeed after having come from such a neighborhood, perhaps she can serve as a symbol of hope for everyone else.
All of this is kind of familiar–it feels as if writer-director Doug Atchison caught the wonderful documentary “Spellbound” and decided to fuse it with the student-mentor melodrama of your choice–but that doesn’t take away from the undeniable fact that it is still nevertheless incredibly entertaining. For starters, I liked the fact that the story revolves around education instead of winning the big game and still manages to make it seem exciting. I also enjoyed all the lead performances a lot–Palmer and Fishburne work well together and there are also nice turns from Angela Basset as Akeelah’s loving-but-exhausted mother and J.R. Villarreal as another young competitor who begins crushing on Akeelah. (The scene in which Akeelah has to leave the stage and he stalls long enough for her to return is the unquestioned high point.)Sure, “Akeelah and the Bee” is kind of predictable and occasionally a little too sentimental for its own good (especially the introduction of the world’s first pro-spelling gang-banger) but this is a case where the virtues far outweigh the flaws. I’m even willing to overlook the hard-sell marketing push that the film has received from sponsor Starbucks–unlike their usual product, “Akeelah and the Bee” is something that I have no trouble swallowing.
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.