WARNING: This review has more spoilers than usual, so don’t read any further if you don’t want a detailed plot description of the movie!!
Every now and then I have the privilege of seeing a movie that is special, a movie that touches and connects in ways that most movies do not. I thought The Secret Life of Bees was a beautiful film, one of the best I’ve seen all year.
Adapted from the book of the same name, The Secret Life of Bees features a gifted ensemble cast including Dakota Fanning (Man on Fire), Queen Latifah (Mad Money), Sophie Okonedo (Hotel Rwanda), and Alicia Keys (Smokin’ Aces). Fanning is Lily, a melancholy, sensitive teenager burdened with the guilt of having accidentally killed her own mother at the age of four. She lives with T-Ray, her physically and emotionally abusive father. He is devoid of all love and affection, and punishes Lily for perceived misbehavior by forcing her to kneel in grits on the kitchen floor until her knees are raw. Lily escapes her sorrow by sneaking out to the peach orchard behind her house and looking up at the stars, talking quietly to her mother in heaven. Her only friend is Rosaleen, her housekeeper and nanny. On her fourteenth birthday the two travel into town together, only to be harassed by some racist locals. The year is 1964, and the Civil Rights Act has just been signed into law. This doesn’t sit well with some Whites, and Rosaleen refuses to swallow her pride when provoked, ending up in the hospital and facing jail time for a violent incident. When T-Ray finally gives Lily all she can stand, she makes a break for it, taking Rosaleen with her. They end up in Tiburon, SC – a town Lily’s mother visited at least once before. The odyssey proves to be one that will change the course of their lives forever.
At a local store Lily notices a jar of honey with a picture of a Black Virgin Mary. Intrigued, she learns that one August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) produces the honey. With Rosaleen in tow, they set out for August’s house. Nothing about the Boatwright home is ordinary, from its color (think Pepto Bismol) to its inhabitants. August resides with her sisters June (Keys) and May (Okonedo), tending to a large apiary which yields the honey that sustains them. The Boatwright sisters are refined and cultured, unlike any Black women Lily and Rosaleen have ever seen. When the two wayward souls show up on August’s doorstep she welcomes them with open arms, much to June’s chagrin. May has developmental issues, but is a kind soul. Soon Lily and Rosaleen settle into a routine, with Lily helping August tend the bees and Rosaleen assisting May in the kitchen. Lily finds the solace and love she craves, and all seems to be well for a brief time, but a White girl living with three Black women in 1960’s South Carolina will only go unnoticed for so long. Eventually T-Ray discovers Lily’s whereabouts and comes to the Boatwright property to retrieve his daughter. I won’t tell you how it ends; you’ll have to see for yourself.
The Secret Life of Bees was enchanting, from start to finish. It dealt with significant themes, including guilt, redemption, forgiveness, grief, and most importantly: love. Love is the thread that held the movie together. Lily believed that she was unlovable. The Boatwright sisters, as surrogate mothers – showed her that everything wants to be loved, and through their collective kindness and nurturance they lifted Lily’s burden and enlightened Rosaleen, all the while dealing with their own personal tragedies. The movie will undoubtedly appeal to women, but I hate when people put creativity in a box. It’s just a good film, period. I think everyone should see it. It was wonderfully directed, capturing the beauty of the Southern, rural landscape and the essence of each character. Dakota Fanning continues to add to a stellar career, already having accomplished more than many of her older counterparts. Kudos to all involved with such a lovely film.
This article first appeared on Poptimal and can be found at http://poptimal.com/2008/10/the-secret-life-of-bees/. The article was reprinted with permission.