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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 brianorndorf

"It struggles, but overcomes melodrama...barely"
4 stars

There are great messages of community involvement and self-acceptance in “Akeelah and the Bee,” that it almost seems criminal the filmmakers swaddle the material in melodrama. Still a well-intentioned and likable picture, “Akeelah” hits too many scripted potholes to truly be a revelatory family film.

As an exceptionally smart young African-American girl living in a depressed neighborhood, Akeelah (Keke Palmer, “Madea’s Family Reunion”) struggles to keep her intelligence below the radar of her critical friends and family (including mother Angela Bassett). When her principal (the always welcome Curtis Armstrong) encourages Akeelah to join the school spelling bee, Akeelah reluctantly accepts and wins, leading her to the championship bee in Washington D.C. Brought in to coach Akeelah is Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), who endeavors to help the girl embrace her intelligence as Akeelah reminds him of his previous life as a family man.

With the success of the near perfect 2003 documentary, “Spellbound,” the fallout has been two features that look to dramatize the personal turmoil that comes with pre-teen spelling bees. The Richard Gere film, “Bee Season,” was a competent and visually ambitious production, but it often left reality behind in the pursuit of religious mysticism. “Akeelah and the Bee” comes closer to what made “Spellbound” so special, but also fails to capture the thrill of the bee.

“Akeelah” finds its identity through its African-American angle, using Akeelah’s south central Los Angeles background as a roadblock to her success in education and the bee. Writer/director Doug Atchison (“The Pornographer”) mines the location for drama heartily, giving Akeelah static through her distracted mother, her bullying classmates (punishing her for being bright), and the lure of street life, which has swallowed her older brother. Atchison positions the barriers well, keeping the viewer as frustrated as Akeelah that her gifts are not being realized to their full potential. The theme of educational growth against incredible odds is richly appreciated, but the payoffs lack dramatic gas.

Eventually melodrama starts to seep into “Akeelah” in ways that grow increasingly formulaic and absurd. Aaron Zigman’s overbearing score leads the charge as the script dive bombs into hammy subplots, the worst offender is Larabee’s tragic past that forces Fishburne into acting positions he doesn’t know how to bow out of gracefully. I also wasn’t thrilled with the depiction of the parents of Akeelah’s Asian rival, who are portrayed with all the subtlety of Nazi commandant who missed a meal, as well as providing the obligatory moment of racism toward Akeelah. Atchison seems smarter and more ambitious than the story he’s presenting, leaving these characters and scenes with the aftertaste of studio intervention.

The idea of a community coming together to support Akeelah is the film’s strongest message, even if it does feature the icky appearance (and semi-celebration) of drug dealers, who help Akeelah study her words.

The notion that even the supposed worst neighborhoods still have a loving, supporting heart is sweet and positive, and lifts the 3rd act of the picture away from the poorly scripted weights that routinely hold it down.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 04/28/06 15:04:41
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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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