The Secret Life of Bees (2008) Dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood
I was skeptical before watching this movie. Another cheesy chick flick, I assumed. I didn’t know what the story was at all – I have never read the book. Now, apologetic as I stand before you, I know every movie deserves to be given a chance.
This is a light movie that tells an incredible story of an extraordinary group of women. It is incredible because, though predictable and inevitably with a happy ending, it is intelligent and heartwarming. Moreover, it is far from banal and naïve, or at least that is my impression. It does not treat women, the target audience, as usual in case of women movies – like shallow, superficial idiots. The movie is witty and moving without being tacky. It proves a movie for women may be more than just a sentimental love story with nothing else to offer. There should be more productions for women like that. It is only a pity it will not get to men, I’m afraid (or am I asking for too much?).
Having said all that, I need to point out a but I noticed. The action takes place in South Carolina in 1964. The characters live in a world where racism is almost tangible. Yet, the physical violence and hatred are not as shocking (read: realistic) as they should be. The story is obviously a bit romanticized. As a group of black women living in a segregated Southern society, the Boatwright sisters are doing more than fine. They live in a beautiful house, though wildly pink on the outside, and prosper well financially (their honey business thrives). It almost seems unlikely to me that such a story could take place in those times. On the one hand, we have a Huck-and-Jim story, when Lily (Dakota Fanning), a white girl, runs away with her black nanny Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) – a sense of adventure and a promise of a happy ending. On the other hand, I can’t stop comparing the well-being of the Boatwright sisters with the situation of black women in “The Color Purple” – a romanticized vision of the world vs. the brutal and violent reality. If only Celie had such sisters.
Apart from my little but, the movie is beautiful. It has excellent acting: moving Dakota Fanning, motherly warm Queen Latifah, emotional Sophie Okonedo, proud Alicia Keys, fantastic Jennifer Hudson, and disturbingly convincing Paul Bettany just to name (the most important) few. Acting itself can be a reason to watch it. By the way, the story of T.Ray, a heartbroken single father is an interesting “male” element in a story full of women. Another reason may be the visual side – here the colors are crucial: the house, the dresses, the water, the trees, the honey, and even black Virgin Mary – they all have intense, bright colors, evoking the feelings of spring and summer. It’s also nicely enriched with music – vibrant classics of the ‘60s and violoncello compositions performed by Alicia Keys.
“The Secret Life of Bees” combines the elements of a light, uplifting movie with the difficult issues of racism and intolerance. In certain moments it is overwhelming, but the happy ending brings solace. It is uplifting and heartwarming, and, at the same time, intelligent and deep. It is a perfect entertainment for the springtime.
Long days, pleasant nights,