Mrs. Musings and I watched this amazingly touching movie last night, Akeelah and the Bee. A young, black girl discovers she has a special talent for spelling and goes far in the national spelling bee competition. We loved it. Yes, some of the plot lines are formulaic. Yes, it’s another movie about a little kid overcoming adversity. But it has a huge heart and great performances from all the actors involved.
The bulk of the movie takes place in Akeelah’s rough neighborhood in Los Angeles. Her single mother (Angela Bassett) has all she can handle to provide for the family and can’t give Akeelah the special attention she needs. She gets bullied at school for being smart. And she’s got a lot of attitude that gets in the way of her success.
Keke Palmer, the girl who plays Akeelah, does a very good job. She’s in almost every scene and the whole production sinks or swims by her performance. She carries it off beautifully. I was totally involved in her growing maturity as she learned the spelling-bee ropes.
Along the way Akeelah is helped by a special tutor, Dr. Larabee, played by Laurence Fishburne. Larabee has his own issues that slowly come out in the course of the movie. In addition to words and language, he introduces Akeelah to a world of ideas far beyond what she’s seen in Los Angeles. And he coaches her to be ready to succeed, to know she can succeed, to really believe she’s special.