Saturday, August 26, 2006

Akeelah and the Bee

Stop Trying to Spell It, and Spell It!

There are many competitive sports movies out there, and most of them run common storylines either being pro-underdogs, or running along racial (dis)harmony themes, believing in yourself, mentor-mentee relationships, you get the drift.

Akeelah and the Bee is no different, but like all feel good movies, chances are you'll like this one and would be touched by it too, because it leaves you all warm and fuzzy inside, never mind a repeat of the commonly used themes. It's formula, but with its predictability, brings you just the right amount of ra-ra moments where you root for what's right, and depends a lot on the charisma of the leads to take it to the finishing line.

The U.S National Spelling Bee competition is a cerebral one. Unless your favourite book is the dictionary and you spew Latin and Greek like a first language, you'll be in awe by the vocabulary that these children have to know, in order to regurgitate the right one in front of a national audience. It's the ultimate English Language challenge, and only the best of the best, through a gruelling selection process, get to make the mark to compete.

Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) comes from your suburb school, and has a penchant for skipping class, hence her less than fantastic grades. Her gift and talent is what else, spelling, and it's quite typical of the school to want to milk that talent to bring glory to themselves. While initially resisting that thought, it doesn't take too long before Dr Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), himself an ex-competitor in the game, identifies her talent, and takes her under his wing to train her for the Nationals.

I kinda smiled that Fishburne fanboy smile - it seems that Fishburne's characters can't seem to get enough of mentoring Andersons :-) Anyway his Dr Larabee plays off a bit like his Matrix's Morpheus, with that stern exterior, and that soft interior. He plays surrogate father to Akeelah, and through their relationship, help build the girl's confidence through essays written by literary giants. It's great chemistry which starts off in a rather chilly manner, but you'd know before long that these two will break the ice and come up between themselves, special techniques to train, and through that, build communication.

The movie does fall into the occasional lapse into stereotypes, like the Asian's uber-competitive streak and that strict father you love to hate, the divide between the haves and the have-nots with the rich white kids, and the black ghetto boys. However, these are glossed over too quickly, as we head onto themes like the galvanizing of a community, and the spirit of competition even though it led to an all too predictable ending. Important reminders like relations between family and friends are stressed, and in a way, it made this first Starbucks Coffee (yes, that coffee company) production appeal to a wide spectrum.

The message in the movie is clear, and it reminded me of an old soldier who once told our platoon, and I paraphrase, that one should not let others look down upon you, but more importantly, you should not look down on yourself. Clearly, that's the message here. Go the distance without fear.

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