“Secret Lives of Bees” – Susan Granger reviews

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When one of your favorite novels becomes a movie, it’s always a gamble whether the filmmaker’s vision will match the one that’s firmly embedded in your imagination. Fear not with Gina Prince-Bythewood’s entertaining, enlightening adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd’s award-winning best-seller.

In rural South Carolina in the summer of 1964, just after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, troubled 14 year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) runs away from her coldly abusive, widower father (Paul Bettany), dragging along her caretaker, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), who has been assaulted by rednecks. Haunted by guilty memories of her mother, who died in a tragic accident when she was only four, Lily desperately tries to connect with the few maternal fragments she can piece together, seeking safety and shelter in Tiburon at the 28-acre farm of the cultured, honey-making Boatwright sisters.

“Liftin’ someone’s heart, now that matters. The whole problem with people is they know what matters, but they don’t choose it,” muses nurturing August Boatwright (Queen Latifah), who makes sensitive Lily her bee-keeping apprentice in the Pepto-Bismol pink house she shares with her sisters: the warily independent cellist, June (Alicia Keys) and the vulnerable, simple-minded May (Sophie Okonedo). Lily’s also befriended by August’s earnest godson (Tristan Wilds) who yearns to be a lawyer.

Screenwriter/director Gina Prince-Blythewood (“Love & Basketball”) retains all the gentle lyricism of the complex narrative and achieves a near-miracle of casting. Dakota Fanning exudes the subtle, emotion-stretching mastery and limber spontaneity that mark superb screen acting, while Sophie Okenedo and Paul Bettany give strong support.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Secret Life of Bees” is a life-affirming 8, an inspirational story about family, hope and love that tugs at your heartstrings.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.