Wondertwin powers … Activate! Form of – a spelling bee champion!

Theatrical Release Date: 04/28/2006
Director: Doug Atchison
Cast: Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, J.R. Villarreal

How would I spell “Akeelah and the Bee”?

G-R-E-A-T … Great.

There’s only one regret I have in seeing “Akeelah and the Bee”: that I didn’t see it sooner. While I appreciate my loyal fans taking time to read my ranting and raving, feel free to just go to the theaters and watch this film. You can read this afterwards.

If it’s not playing in theaters anymore or you are just more of a video rental person, just make sure to see this when it hits store shelves.

Why am I pimping this movie harder than Harvey Keitel offers up Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver”? Well, I’ll just let the cat out of the bag and tell you that “Akeelah and the Bee” is a solid 4 out of 5, making it the best of the year so far.

High praise? Sure.

Worth it? Yup.

As I’m sure you already know, the film is about a young girl, Akeelah (Keke Palmer), who makes it to the National Spelling Bee finals. The twist is that she lives in Crenshaw, California – a locale more expected to give birth to the next N.W.A. than a champion speller.

I fully understand that this film has all the clichés in effect. By pulling on the heartstrings of the audience so firmly, it’s no surprise this is such a big hit with families. I also realize I’m generally not the touchy feely guy.

All of that aside, I loved this film.

Writer/director Doug Atchison was able to coax excellent performances from the young actors, most notably Palmer as the title character and J.R. Villarreal as another champion speller who befriends Akeelah along the competition’s journey. So often, the inability of the child actors to emote and react to other performances can drag a good movie down. This is not the case here.

Helping out the kids are some excellent performances by Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett. That’s right, Ike and Tina are both in this film (and no one gets beat up). As Akeelah’s spelling coach and mother, these Academy Award level actors shore up any possibility that the film could fall short of expectations.

There’s even a good dramatic performance from Booger himself, Curtis Armstrong.

Getting into all the little elements of the film really isn’t needed here. The plot is super simple and I already explained the acting is first rate.

What makes “Akeelah and the Bee” stand out is the fantastic and positive message the film is able to convey. Sure, this is a tried and true cliché of an underprivileged person who defies all the odds to come out on top. We’ve all seen it before.

My assertion is that no matter how many times you have seen it, as long as it is done well it is worth seeing again.

I admit that in the beginning of the film, I thought the dour portrayal of life in Crenshaw was a bit over-handed but by the middle of the film, all is forgiven. Akeelah’s dedication to pursuing a national championship, the friends she makes, her family’s ability to come together to support her, Crenshaw’s outpouring of encouragement – all of that warmed my cold, dead heart like an electric blanket set on 11.

I am man enough (and definitely enough of a girl) to admit that I had some tears rolling throughout the film. They weren’t tears of sadness so often as they were of pride. Watching the film, my heart went out to Akeelah and her cast of supporters. I wanted to be able to help her reach her goals.

I know it’s corny but that’s how I felt. I also was able to recognize during the film how long it has been since there was a film with such a good message. Not since 2002 with the releases of “Rabbit Proof Fence” and “Whale Rider” have I had these gooey, sappy feelings.

And if you’re headed to the video store and haven’t seen either of those films, do yourself a favor and pick them up.

Back to “Akeelah and the Bee”, as aforementioned I’m giving it a 4 out of 5. The characters, story and message are all handled well by the script and direction – which is probably made easier since they were both done by the same person. This is a family-friendly film that no adult should not miss just because they don’t have kids to bring to it.

It will take ten more great films to knock this off my best of list next January. I have the feeling that won’t happen so go ahead and try to spend your ten catching this film.