“Secret Life of Bees”
Fox Searchlight
At Quality 16 & Showcase

3.5 out of 5 stars

“The Secret Life of Bees,” based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd, is one of the most emotional films released this year.

In 1964, 14-year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning, “War of the Worlds”) lives in South Carolina with her abusive father, her housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson, “Dreamgirls”) and the burden of accidentally killing her mother as a toddler. In order to escape her violent and neglectful father, Lily leaves town with Rosaleen by her side. Seeking refuge, the two meet the bee-farming Boatwright sisters — August (Queen Latifah, “Hairspray”), May (Sophie Okonedo, “Hotel Rwanda”) and June (Alicia Keys, “Smokin’ Aces”).

The film’s success is entirely contingent upon the powerful and dynamic cast that drives it. Dakota Fanning is at her best here. She isn’t a little girl anymore, and it’s easy to invest in her as she deals with a broken family and her blossoming womanhood. And as the empathetic mother figure, Queen Latifah shines.

It’s hard for “Bees” to not be overly sentimental and saccharine due to its heavy source material, and the themes of family and love are really driven home. Set in a time when skin color determined one’s acceptance or isolation, the film exudes family love through the inspiring community that the Boatwrights — and their bees — ultimately create.

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