It's Got to Bee
I would be lying if I didn't say that "Akeelah and the Bee" was entertaining, writer/director Doug Atchison has crafted a movie which is beautiful, engaging, emotional and inspirational, everything I am sure he set out to do. But I would also be lying if I didn't say that "Akeelah and the Bee" was also familiar, even a little cliche and corny with it's tale of a young girl achieving greatness by conquering her fears, her home life and so on to make it to the National Spelling Bee competition. As such whilst I enjoyed every minute of the movie and Keke Palmer's sweet yet sassy performance as the titular Akeelah I did find myself feeling like I had seen it all before.
Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer - Knights of the South Bronx) is a talented eleven year old but she feels a bit of a misfit in school, trying to hide her talent for spelling because of those who tease her. Not only that but her home life is little better as with her dad having been killed her mum works all hours, one brother is in the Air Force whilst another is hanging around the street with a gang. But when Akeelah is forced to take part in the school spelling bee things start to change as her ability is spotted and with coach Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne - The Matrix Revolutions) starts preparing to try and make it to the national competition.
So as I said "Akeelah and the Bee" is an entertaining movie, taking the inspirational story of a troubled kid making something of herself and placing it in the world of spelling competitions. It is nicely put together so we connect with young Akeelah and can empathise with her troubles, from fear of being bullied to trouble at home. And at the same time the whole competitiveness of the spelling competitions is nicely shown as we see how hard it hits some children when they fail and others are pushed hard by their parents to win. All of which comes together to be an engaging movie which takes us on a pleasant journey of ups and downs.
But then as I also said "Akeelah and the Bee" is a familiar movie, an inspirational movie which delivers the expected big highs and lows as well as cliches. From Akeelah's best friend Georgia feeling left out, her mum upset at Akeelah lying to her about training to the emotional issues of Dr. Larabee it is all very familiar and often highly telegraphed. In fact there are times when not only does "Akeelah and the Bee" border on the corny, as local gang leader helps Akeelah practice but it feels like it is trying too hard to manipulate are emotions, none more so than during the big finale. It is a shame that it does try too manipulate us because it would have been a much better movie and less corny if it had shown a little bit of restraint.
Having said that what helps to keep us watching when it does go overkill on the manipulation is some fine performances throughout with the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett and Curtis Armstrong all doing a great job of their characters whilst letting the young actors to shine. And shine is what Keke Palmer does as Akeelah because she delivers this character which is a mixture of sweet and sassy, a good kid who has a touch of street aggression about her making her interesting, opinionated but also nice. Yet you have to say that the comical charm of J.R. Villarreal as fellow speller Javier steals many a scene especially in the amusing and dignified way he accepts defeat by taking a bow.
What this all boils down to is that "Akeelah and the Bee" is a nicely put together, inspirational movie which engages you from start to finish. But it is also a familiar movie with its tale of a kid making the most of themselves with a bit of guidance and encouragement and unfortunately at times is both corny and cliche as it tries too hard to manipulate are emotions.