Based off of a novel of the same name, The Secret Life of Bees buzzed (yeah I know, lame joke) its way into theaters in October of 2008 for a theatrical run that literally closed just last week (on February 5th). The film garnered mixed critical reviews, but eventually went on to gross quite a tidy sum of money despite advertising for this film being relatively low (I cannot personally remember seeing a single trailer for it). With a strong cast of leading and supporting actresses, The Secret Life of Bees proved to be a successful outing for Fox, who invested a mere $11 million into the project.
Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning head a stellar ensemble cast in this “wonderful film about family, independence and the transcendent power of love” (Minneapolis Star Tribune) based on the acclaimed best-selling novel. To escape her cruel, angry father – and discover the truth about her late mother’s past – 14-year old Lily Owens flees with her caregiver and friend Rosaleen to a South Carolina town where she’s taken in by the bee-keeping Boatwright sisters. Surrounded by the unexpected love, grace and spirituality she encounters there, Lily forms a bond with each of these uniquely gifted women and discovers that sometimes you must leave home in order to find it.
While I’d heard of the film (I think I read a review of it in EW), I really had never seen any advertising for it so when it showed up I was a bit confused as to how a film with Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning headlining it would slip past my radar as completely as it did. Of course this isn’t exactly the type of film that I would normally jump and watch anyway, but still—when you have big names on a production, generally it gets noticed. Although since I’m nowhere near the target audience I shouldn’t be too surprised it completely glossed over me, even if it did make $37 million domestically.
There’s really not too much to say about this movie, as it’s a pretty by-the-numbers “feel good” type film (well aside from the angry father) that offers plenty of inspiring moments and pearls of wisdom along the way. The collaboration between all of the parties involved here, whether it be Latifah, Fanning or relative newcomer Alicia Keys (I don’t really count her Smokin’ Aces role as a much of an acting effort—she was great in it, sure, but it’s hard to screw up a gun-toting female role who kicks ass) is really what makes the film shine.
In fact, aside from the stellar acting included here, the film really doesn’t offer much up to the viewer in terms of substance. It’s a pretty syrupy sweet mess at times, at times becoming something that’s almost unbearable to watch unless you happen to have an insane sweet tooth going on. Of course it does paint an interesting picture of racism, as watching this film now with Obama in the White House is quite the stark contrast in what a difference around fifty years can make.
In all, The Secret Life of Bees is a solidly produced and acted film, but as I said before it does get to be a bit sappy at times. But, that’s just the kind of movie this is; from the description alone you can tell that this is going to be a Lifetime-style movie, just with a lot stronger production values and acting talent involved.
Overall The Secret Life of Bees is Recommended at the least. The acting is strong and despite the sappy story, it’s quite an uplifting tale. It may even be suitable for family viewing, although keep in mind there is some violent material to be had, which may require some explaining for the younger audience members.
Fox has released The Secret Life of Bees in a single disc release without any notices other than a firmware upgrade and disc art that mimics the cover. No slipcover is included and the menus for the film are simple and easy to navigate. If there were such a thing as a barebones Blu-ray, then this would be it in terms of appearance.
The film arrives with an AVC (@21mbps) encoded transfer that looks quite strong, which is to be expected from a modern film. The detail is high and there are some fantastic visuals to take in here, with the films hue casting slightly golden as per the cover of the film itself. Overall it’s a fine transfer as can be expected from Fox, although it’s nothing that you’ll want to show off your home theater with. Likewise the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks is impressive, but not amazingly so; solid up front levels where most of the film takes place, but aside from some buzzing in the surrounds (that was from the bees, not my speakers going out) there isn’t a whole lot to take in with this film. Also included is a Spanish 5.1DD track and English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles.
Theatrical cut of the film
Director’s Extended Cut Featuring Never-Before-Seen Footage
Eight Deleted Scenes
The World Premiere Featurette
The Women And Men Of The Secret Life Of Bees Featurette
Adaptation: Bringing The Secret Life of Bees To The Big Screen Featurette
Inside The Pink House With Sue Monk Kidd Featurette
Beekeeping 101 Featurette
Life on the Set Featurette
Commentary With Director/Writer Gina Prince-Bythewood, Producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Joe Pichirallo, Actors Dakota Fanning And Queen Latifah
Commentary With Director/Writer Gina Prince-Bythewood and Editor Terilyn Shropshire
Yeah, there are plenty of goodies to check out here. The two commentaries are certainly enlightening, although there is a bit of overlap considering Bythewood is included on both tracks. There isn’t much of a difference between the theatrical and extended cuts, and the deleted scenes included are worth checking out if you enjoyed the film. The six featurettes paint a solid picture of the production of the film and all total this is a hell of a lot more extras than I expected from a film like this. Then again I apparently knew nothing about it anyway, so I guess I should stop being so surprised.
Overall The Secret Life of Bees is a solid release and comes Recommended. I’m not entirely sure how many times you could rewatch this film, but the extras are more than in-depth enough to warrant a look, especially if you enjoyed the film.
The Secret Life of Bees is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.