Saturday, October 18, 2008

"The Secret Life of Bees"

Writer/Director Gina Prince-Bythewood, winner of the Independent Spirit Award for Sundance hit, "Love & Basketball," has now brought the beloved, acclaimed best-seller, "The Secret Life of Bees" to the screen.

1964, South Carolina. After a tragic accident leaves her motherless, Lily Owens (played with open-eyed honestly by Dakota Fanning) is raised in a loveless home by her cruel, distant father. Fourteen year old Lily longs for a mother she never knew. When her only friend, their black maid Rosaleen, ends up in the hospital and under arrest for insulting a racist white man, the girls are forced to go on the run. The only trace of her mama's past is a honey jar label that Lily found in her few processions.

Lily and Rosaleen end up on the doorstep of the Boatwrights, the black sisters who own the successful honey farm. Lily concocts an elaborate lie to persuade the maternal August Boatwright (played with warm dignity by Queen Latifah) to temporarily take them in. They are met with some resistance from the guarded June (Alicia Keys), a classical cellist and civil rights activist. But they are welcomed enthusiastically by the open-hearted May (played with touching vulnerability by Sophie Okonedo). They soon find that hyper-sensitive May is moved to tears by the mention of anything sad.

August teaches Lily how to tend the bees, and May whole heartedly embraces both girls. They are soon accepted as part of the family. But Lily still needs to find the truth of why her mother left her.

This is a coming of age story and parable about how to cope with the painful truth and find forgiveness. As Lily's young love interest puts it, "It's not just about the truth. It's about what you do with it." The two sisters illustrate different ways to deal with the hard truths of life. June has closed her heart and built a protective wall to keep out hurtful emotions. While May has completely opened her heart and feels everyone's pain. Her heart is open to joy but it is also an open wound. Lily says that she would rather be like May than her father who has blocked his emotions turning him into a cruel man.
Writer/Director Gina Prince-Bythewood
I loved being in this world and a part of this loving family - so much that I stayed for a second screening. This is due in part to Gina Prince-Bythewood's excellent adaptation and the wonderful acting of Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, and especially Sophie Okonedo - who is literally the heart of the film.

If you're looking for a sweet way to spend the afternoon, "The Secret Life of Bees" will supply the honey.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

Sunday, October 05, 2008


I was enjoying previews of long awaited Fall dramas when up popped what appeared to be a teaser for the 70's TV show Emergency. It turned out to be trailer for the low budget independent film, "Fireproof" about a firefighter who is a hero to everyone but his own wife. His father explains, "You can't give her what you don't have." His friend suggests, "You gotta beg God to teach you how to be a good husband." The next shot is a man bowed in prayer. There was an audible GASP in the theater. As a society, have we become more comfortable with sex and violence portrayed on the big screen than religion? Maybe we just don't want to be preached at in the movie theater.

This is an openly Christian movie. Two recent Christian movies, "Bella" and "Noelle," were more subtle about their Christian motives - perhaps in an attempt to get non-believers into the theater before imparting the Christian theme. I admired these two films because their non-judgemental message came out of the action. In "Fireproof," the message comes out of the action and preachy speeches - even referencing bible verses. Dad comes off more like a benevolent pastor than a concerned parent. (Oh, he was played by Pastor Malcom. That explains it.)

When Caleb (Kirk Cameron) announces that he is getting a divorce, his father challenges him to wait 40 days to perform a "love dare" by following assignments his father has jotted down. This is similar to the device used in the "Bucket List" but it actually works much better here. At first Caleb does the least he can do. His heart isn't in it. His firefighter friend suggests, "You don't just follow your heart. You lead your heart." Skilled actor Ken Bevel does an admirable job spouting some pretty corny firefighting inspired figures-of-speech.

I liked entering the world of firefighters and getting a glimpse at what it's like to come so close to losing your life. Witnessing this side of Caleb's life allows the audience to like him after the unsympathetic way he treats his wife. Unfortunately, their fights come across as somewhat cliched and stilted. This is partially do to some amateurish acting and partially because many of us have heard these angry words come out of our own mouths.

One of the reason's that I went to this film was to learn how to make my marriage stronger. The "Love Dare" has some really good ideas on how to "fireproof your marriage." (One of those corny figures of speech.) And the film inspires you to make the effort.

Despite some stilted acting, corny dialogue, and preachy speeches, I was genuinely moved by "Fireproof." I related to the characters' struggle. I would definitely recommend it to a couple who was having problems with their marriage. Well, as long as their spouse isn't a die hard atheist - like mine.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

To view the trailer, visit: