There's a nice nostalgic sheen to this drama even if this amiable "chick-flick" may get too syrupy for its own good.
Gina Prince-Bythewood's The Secret Life of Bees stars Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, and Jennifer Hudson, and feels like it might have been made in South Carolina around the time of the Civil Rights Act being passed by Lyndon Johnson.
Fanning's 14-year-old Lily Owens, is suppressing the memory of her mother and wonders if her surly dad (Paul Bettany) really wants her to live with him.
When their housekeeper Rosaleen (Hudson) is ganged up by some bigotted rednecks and injured, Lily takes off with her. They find an asylum with beekeepers, who turn out to have known her mother. The proprietor, August, a matronly Latifah, gets help from her siblings, also named after months - May (Sophie Okonedo) and June (Alicia Keys). Lily becomes part of a family, yet there's no denying about the need to deal with her inner turmoil.
Working from the popular novel, Prince-Bythewood perhaps is conscious too much of illuminating her settings and the presence of her attractive cast. It's almost heavenly at times in a wooded environment, yet the disturbing elements aren't really too glossed over with passionate blasts from the past.
Now a teen, Fanning endows Lily with a certain amount of moxie and sensitivity that plays well, especially opposite Hudson, Latifah, and Bettany. The problems with mutual acceptance are evident as Bettany endows someone having difficulty adjusting in daily life, hardly on firm emotional footing. Hudson, in her relatively brief screen time, epitomizes the transition of the kind of woman still thought to look and act like an indentured servant. Okonedo and Keys emit a sense of pensiveness and sassy independence, respectively.
If a rugged naturalism is sanitized to favor its true demographic, The Secret Life of Bees still succeeds as an affecting cinematic treatment of its source. It's how Lily comes to terms with life's mysteries that kind of dovetail into the work ethic of being a proficient beekeeper.