Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Akeelah And The Bee

In a nutshell, Akeelah and the Bee is the story of a young girl who struggles against all odds to win a series of spelling bees. The premise of this story makes it sound like a snoozer. It is anything but. This movie is a moving portrait of interwoven lives and the classic American concept of rooting for the underdog. The way in which this movie delivers that message makes it a classic, that should be a part of everyone's video library.

The Casting in this movie is phenomenal. I have been a Laurence Fishburne fan for many years. He has done dozens of films, but my all time favorite was his 1992 film Deep Cover. Laurence Fishburne plays the role of mentor to a young inner city girl, Akeelah (played by Keke Palmer). The chemistry between these two actors was amazingly beautiful. The tempo of this movie relies on their believability as they both exorcise their demons. I was a little bit distracted by Akeelah's principal, played by Curtis Armstrong. He delivered his role flawlessly, but I can't picture him as any other character than "Booger" in the 1984 hit Revenge of the Nerds. Armstrong has done dozens of movies since Nerds, but I can't shake the images of him picking his nose. The Crab Man from My Name is Earl also makes a small appearance in this film, playing a lovable street hood. That was a bit of a stretch for me, too.

The screenplay for Akeelah and the Bee manages to take a mundane competition that borders on being marginal at best and make it into an interesting film. The writing creates depth to the characters beyond the chemistry that they create with their acting. Strong dialogue and difficult interactions that don't feel strained show the complexity of the characters, and that as characters, they are not simply committed to the end product of the film, but have their own purpose in life. Akeelah's mother was played exceptionally by Angela Bassett. Her character is complex, yet it seemed that her character was just a bit unbelievable. This was more a product of the situations created by the writing than by her acting, which was spot on.

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