Friday, April 28, 2006

'Akeelah and the Bee' gets an A

Sometimes movies get it just right. This is one of those cases. It would be hard to imagine a better told family tale of overcoming obstacles to excel than this movie. It is PG rated (apparently because the movie has exactly one 4 letter word in it), and runs one hour and 47 minutes. This is one of those films that you wish were longer in fact. But the story is tightknit, the action follows logically, and the acting is superb-- Laurence Fishbane may well get an Oscar nod for this one, and Angela Bassett as the barely coping single Mom dealing with teenage children in south L.A. also does a superb job. But the star of the show is of course Keke Palmer playing Akeelah Anderson, speller extraordinaire.

The story centers on the experiences of Akeelah Anderson at her dirt poor inner city middle school, where kids who excel are ridculed for being brainiacs. Akeelah, though she is bright, tries her best to fit in with the in crowd, by skipping classes and dising school, all the while making A+ in spelling. She has a deep love of words, derived from her father whom she lost at age 9. He was shot on the way home from work in L.A. It is a tough story about coping, and trying to find friends, and at the same time, trying to handle the fact that one is intelligent, but lives in an environment where educational excellence is often ridiculed not encouraged. Viewers will be reminded of 'Finding Forester' another great film about a mentoring relationship, but Laurence Fishburne plays a rather different sort of recluse than Sean Connery. He has his own family loses to deal with (loss of his daughter) and then of his marriage to cope with, and serendipitously, Akeelah and Dr. Palmer help each other with these losses.

I will not spoil the story line for you, but I will say this-- this movie has plenty of epiphanic moments, not the least of which is the occasion when Akeelah reads the placque on Palmer's wall which has the famous quote from Nelson Mandela in it about the fact that we are all frightened to be whom God intended us to be-- someone powerful, beautiful glorious in God's image and accomplished. I shed more than one tear in this movie as a teacher and one who needed and revered my own teachers.

Who knew a movie about a spelling bee could be this compelling, this human, this humane and moving? Well, we have one now, and all parents who have children with potential, much of which is still unrealized, should go with their children to see this movie and learn the role parents and mentors ought to play in their children's education, and along the way learn some lessons about how "a mind is a terrible thing to waste". As we stand on the cusp of the summer movie season full of fluff, and fun, and "much ado about nothing" if you can only go to one movie with your family, go to this one. You will be the richer for it. "Train up a child in the way that she should go, and she will not depart from it in her old age."


Jonathan Marlowe said...

Yes, I agree, it was a wonderful movie. I don't want to give away too much plot, but I especially like the way that the movie visually communicated the idea that Akeelah is not a self-made person, but is only who she is because of the help of others. Against the Enlightenment myth of the autonomous individual, this movie in some ways reminds me of how the church is supposed to be - making people much more than who they could be if left to their own devices.

Ben Witherington said...

You are so right Jonathan-- we all stand on the shoulders of those who have come before us, and who have stood along side us and have helped us up and onwards....



RC said...

interesting review...thanks for sharing.

I wonder how well the starbucks heavy marketing will pay off.

--RC of

Terry Hamblin said...

I am told that Proverbs 22:6 can be translated 'the way he/she would go'. In other words if you allow a child to behave according to his/her nature then the child can't be cured of it later.

That certainly bears out experience more than the the wichful thinking that a child will stick to the Christian upbringing provided.

Ben Witherington said...

Pretty serious to say the least... I have been doing da Vinci Code events all over the country and the strained nature of things comes through loud and clear,


Ben Witherington said...

Hi Shane:

Don't know about the M Div. requirement, I doubt that. But for sure there will be residency issues. Ask Bill



Frank Walton said...

I'm hearing a lot about this movie. I'll definitely catch it. Another good movie is United 93.

Ben Witherington said...

Well Traditionalist if you haven't seen Akeelah and the Bee, how in the world would you know United 93 is a better movie? But I hear United 93 is very well done. Several friends have commended it.



Inspire Adventure said...

Saw the movie as well, really enjoyed it, glad you didn't say what the complete story line was.

Norwegian Cruise