Ticket price: 10.99
Seat: lower right
Weather: cool, post-rain
Food: V8, Kit Kat Chunky
Pre-show ads: McDonald’s, Milk, Sobeys, Toyota, Telus
Based on a best-selling first novel by Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees is a coming of age film starring the coming of age actress Dakota Fanning, who is looking more like Jodie Foster every day. Fanning plays Lily Owens, a teenaged girl who lives in the American south in 1965, haunted by the memory of accidentally shooting her mother a decade before. Her father (Paul Bettany) is a strict bastard who pushes Lily and their housekeeper (Jennifer Hudson) around. After the housekeeper is beaten by local men for trying to register to vote, Lily runs away with her to Virginia, hoping to find out more about her mother. They land at the home of August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) and her sisters, who are beekeepers that sell a popular brand of honey.
Race relations have been on my mind this week, for two reasons: the most obvious being that Barack Obama has just been elected President, and so of course the media is filled with retrospectives about the civil rights movement and how far the country may or may not have progressed. The second reason is the fact that I recently finished watching the last series of HBO’s The Wire, a 60-episode opus about the relationships between law enforcement, the “war on drugs”, education, the media, politicians, and much more. It was a series that employed more African-American actors than any ten others put together, including Tristan Wilds, who appears as Zachary Taylor in Bees.
Perhaps it isn’t fair for me to compare this movie with something as expansive and accomplished as The Wire, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth to see yet another film that is about something like the civil rights movement from the point of view of a teenaged white girl. Of course, Sue Monk Kidd was herself a teenaged white girl in 1965 and she was undoubtedly writing what she knows; and of course, there are some who take offense at the thought of a white person writing from the point of view of a non-white character. That’s a shame, especially considering that the creators and many of the writers of The Wire are white.
When you only have two hours to tell a story on the big screen, it had better be a good one and hopefully it is a concise one. The Secret Life of Bees is not much of either. The cast tries, to varying degrees of success, and the director bathes them in the glow of a Virginia summer; but there are too many false notes, too many awkward takes. In 1965, we might have seen a black person on a movie screen as a “token” character, just as one might argue that Dakota Fanning’s character is one today; but compared to other things I have seen over the years, including films from the 1960s, The Secret Life of Bees feels like a token effort. It is a soap opera playing dress-up.
Crowd reaction at end of movie: none.
Credit cookie?: no.
For further consideration: watch for the futuristic sequel, Planet of the Apiary. (I’m sorry, it’s late.)
Opening next week: Quantum of Solace, Christmas Tale, Slumdog Millionaire
Hoping for: Quantum of Solace
Finally, a reminder to my fellow Canadians that Passchendaele is probably still playing at a theatre near you, if you’re looking for a different sort of soap opera to mark the 90th anniversary of the armistice signing.