Bees, as even Doctor Who has mentioned, are vanishing. They don’t appear to be dying out, because nobody’s found millions of little fuzzy bodies. They’re just vanishing. Why? Strange virus? Some sort of mite? Sudden infertility? A hole in the space time continuum taking them back to their home planet?
After seeing The Secret Life of Bees, Gina “Love & Basketball” Prince-Bythewood’s take on Sue Monk Kidd’s best seller, there’s a new theory on the block: embarrassment. If I was a bee and saw it, I’d be telling people I’m actually a fat wasp rather than be associated with this sickly, mawkish, lawks-a-mercy honey chile, deeply patronising look at Southern life in the 1960s.
Lily (the ever-committed Fanning) is a troubled child. As a kid, she accidentally shot her mother while attempting to stop her father (Bettany) hurting her. After years of cruelty — aside from a “kneeling on grits” punishment, which loses a lot in translation, this isn’t really apparent — Lily runs away with the help of family cook Rosaleen (Hudson). They end up at the home of August Boatwright (Latifah) and her two sisters, forthright June (Keys) and "troubled" — read Rainman-esque tics and eccentricities — May (Okenedo), where they end up helping to make honey (just to explain the title), questioning the civil rights issues of the day and getting endless home-spun wisdom from August. So much so it must be like living with a speaking “Thought of the Day” calendar.
The effect is the Reader’s Digest Forrest Gump, or Mississippi Burning crossed with a Hallmark card. It’s all so earnest and schmaltzy and overpowering that it’s impossible to take it seriously. The performances are all great but boy are they let down by the story and screenplay. If there’s a person in the country who can keep a straight face when Dakota Fanning breaks down and cries “I’m unlovable!” I’d be very surprised.