Akeelah and the Bee
Just in time for an end of the school year fifth-grade field trip comes this entertaining, sweet, and inspirational movie about hard work, perseverance, and self-confidence. As cheesy as that sounds, that’s what Akeelah and the Bee is, and also why it works.
Writer/director Doug Atchinson’s mainstream debut follows Akeelah Anderson, a young black girl from the bad side of South Central Los Angeles, played by the impressive 13-year-old Keke Palmer. Akeelah is slipping into the background of her preoccupied family: hard-working single mom Tanya (super-MILF Angela Basset), her older sister—a single mother herself—and two older brothers, one of whom is in the military; the other runs around acting out gangster fantasies. Akeelah ends up doing what most kids in her latchkey kid-like position do: she wanders aimlessly through her classes, misses as many days of school as she attends, and fails practically every course—except one, spelling.
The rest you can smell from a mile away, but not in a bad way. The school administration, namely the principal (Curtis Armstrong), would like to exploit Akeelah to better the school’s rep. After all, the girl is a freakishly good speller, so good she may be able to make it to the county finals, heck maybe even state or the nationals on ESPN. If only she had the right coach . . .
Enter Mr. Miyagi—uh, Dr. Joshua Larabee (a surly on the outside, soft and fuzzy on the inside Laurence Fishburne). Schmaltzy clichés aside, what makes Akeelah the movie that every middle-schooler needs to see is it’s portrayal and development of Akeelah, who’s story is as fantastic as it is typical. She is so wildly bright that it’s almost heartbreaking to see that not only has she lost interest in school—“Why would I want to represent a school that doesn’t have any doors on the bathroom stalls?!” she quips when first asked to compete—but she actually hides her good spelling grades from the other kids who call her nerd and freak. And she gets zero support or encouragement at home.
Schools in this town are unfortunately full of little Akeelahs, children who think it’s corny to be smart or exceptional, children who when they go home have parents who are oblivious to what their children are doing, if they’re even present at all. At the end of the day, as a movie, Akeelah and the Bee is fun and uplifting without a totally predictable ending and enough side stories to keep it more entertaining than the usual “You can succeed if you believe” preach fest. Take your kids to see it.