Sun April 23, 2006
Akeelah and the Bee
Winning in anyone's lexicon
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"The old saying . . . that style is the man himself is as near the truth as we can get--but then most men mistake grammar for style, as they mistake correct spelling for words or schooling for education."
Orthography is the new pornography of the tear-jerking, get-off-your butt-by-your-boot-straps film that, regardless of whether or not it is fiction, is meant to uplift. Akeelah and the Bee is one of the best and most sentimental of the spelling bee genre (recently Spellbound and Bee Season), a fiction about Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer), an underachieving eleven year old in largely black South Los Angeles' Crenshaw district.
Enter a kindly white principal who wants her to join the spelling bee contest and crusty professor Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), who was a champ and now will coach her for the national bee. Need I say more, or will you just fill in the plot points without disappointment because all the strings and stops are pulled from her initial resistance to a slight twist on a tired formulaic ending?
But what, you may ask, is the saving feature of this feel gooder? It's the big issues it touches on ever so lightly such as cooperation and love, dreams and hard work. Along the way witness the importance of studying etymology and even using mnemonic devices. Learn to love community as the little celebrity unifies otherwise fractious urban enclaves. Learn to despise a silly subplot involving the professor's family, a distraction meant to parallel the main plot but ending up sapping vital dignity from the professor and trivializing the real issues.
Feeling good about children who achieve through the help of adults is not a bad thing; it's just that originality should prevail for a genre that needs to show the sports film genre what intellectual competition can do to spark community and maybe change lives. The audience loved Akeelah and the Bee at our screening; that's winning in anyone's lexicon.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com