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  Publicity Stills of "Akeelah and the Bee"
Courtesy of Shaw

Genre: Drama/Family
Director: Doug Achison
Starring: Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Keke Palmer
RunTime: 1 hr 53 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: PG
Official Website: http://www.akeelahandthebee.com/splash.html

Opening Day: 31 August 2006


An inspirational drama, AKEELAH AND THE BEE is the story of Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer), a precocious eleven-year-old girl from south Los Angeles with a gift for words. Despite the objections of her mother Tanya (Angela Bassett), Akeelah enters various spelling contests, for which she is tutored by the forthright Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne); her principal Mr. Welch (Curtis Armstrong) and the proud residents of her neighborhood. Akeelah’s aptitude earns her an opportunity to compete for a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and in turn unites her neighborhood who witness the courage and inspiration of one amazing little girl.

Movie Review:

If you are not a fan of spelling tests back in primary school, then you probably won’t be too excited about this movie. Now, you must know that the National Spelling Bee is this really big event in the States, where kids from all around the country gather to, well, spell words you and I have possibly never heard of. In case you didn’t know, it is even broadcast on sports cable channel EPSN.

Now that we have one national phenomenon in place for a dramatic plot, let’s throw in another dimension for an uplifting and inspirational full-length feature. What can be more elevating and rousing than having a young and insecure African American girl overcoming all odds to win the coveted championship title? Almost nothing, if you ask us. These are the perfect ingredients for a crowd-pleaser.

Summarizing the plot of this movie would be easy – because you’d know what the outcomes are before we tell you. Akeelah isn’t exactly the most fortunate 11-year-old you’d know. With a deceased father, a mother who pays more attention to her work and a brother who has gangster friends, it is no wonder she feels self-doubt most of the time.

But the world is fair, because Akeelah is blessed with the gift of spelling, and boy, does she amaze everyone with her talent. Before she knows it, she is being coached by a professional trainer, and on her way to fame and success. Of course, like all feel-good movies, support and love would surface from family and friends.

Do not be mistaken that we dislike the predictability of this movie directed by Doug Atchinson and produced by Laurence Fishburne. In fact, the second most enjoyable aspect of this movie is being able to guess correctly what would happen next. The most pleasurable moments of this film are, of course, the very fine performances from its entire cast.

When Fishburne isn’t busy playing Morpheus and spouting philosophical lines to Keana Reeves in The Matrix series, he is occupied with his stimulating role as the former professor who trains Akeelah. Heck, the script even requires him to read one intelligent-sounding voiceover passage about facing your fears. How very truth-seeking indeed. At least Fishburne doesn’t need look ridiculously silly here. In fact, a scene of him confiding in Akeelah about his past tugged our heartstrings so much; we thought we felt water in our eyes.

And the excellent performance not only comes from this veteran actor. At the other end of the age scale, we have KeKe Palmer, who is so empathic as Akeelah, you feel like rooting and cheering for her out loud every time she spells a word correctly. Angela Bassett, who plays Akeelah’s mother, exudes some very positive vibes as well. Then there are other secondary characters like Akeelah’s best friend, her brother, and her competitors, who all give top notch performances. No complaints about the acting. Zilch.

The movie also looks at topics like family love, sportsmanship and friendship. But as mentioned before, the movie is so predictable; you’d know exactly how these themes are going to be developed. Yes, this is true, right down to the portrayal of minority communities, which we will not go into, fearing our lack of academic backups and research into this area. The exchange between FIshburne and Palmer about “ghetto talk” is a gem though, and it tickled us quite a bit, if you do not consider that to be culturally insensitive.

While the movie is this predictable, the 112-minute runtime of the film may be a drag to some. The length sets in when you are not being entertained by the fumbling kids during scenes featuring the actual spelling bee competition. It is truly a wonder watching them in action.

For such a lengthy movie, these segments may not be enough to entertain some of you out there. So here’s a tidbit to think about and entertain yourself during the slower scenes: The longest word currently listed in Oxford dictionaries is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis (the supposed lung-disease consists of 45 letters). Now try spelling that.

Movie Rating:

(A warm and fuzzy sure-win crowd-pleaser which may feel lengthy at times, this movie will still satisfy anyone who wants to have a feel-good day)

Review by John Li


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