I saw this movie Friday and it took me until Monday to write the review, not because I had a hard time writing it but because it took me that much time to correctly spell Floccinaucinihilipilification.
Movie Title: Akeelah and the Bee
Watch For: a break out performance by Keke Palmer
Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is just like most girls her age. She chats with friends about boys and jumps rope. She is the model of a typical American child, except for one thing. She has a knack for words. She has never missed a word on her spelling test even though she claims not to study, and she is incredible at Scrabble. A game, that I think it is safe to say, is beyond the grasp of most college freshman.
Akeelah's spelling teacher Ms. Cross (Daliah Phillips), who, oddly enough, seems to have trouble with enunciation herself, notices Akeelah's talent and recommends she participate in the spelling bee. Akeelah is unsure of herself and doesn't want to compete but then her principle Mr. Welch (Curtis Armstrong) starts to smell money and goads her into the competition.
Since Akeelah's school is in the heart of Los Angeles; Mr. Welch decides she will need all the help she can get. So, he calls on his friend from college Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne) to help her out. Larabee is a professor at UCLA who is on sabbatical and just happens to have competed in the national spelling bee in his day. It seems strange that two friends from college would take such opposite routes, but I digress.
The rest of the movie focuses on Akeelah's quest for the national spelling bee and the way her family and community rally around her.
I will be the first to admit that this film is incredibly formulaic. It contains all the cliché rise-to-the-top players that we are used to seeing. The workaholic, angry mother who doesn't recognize her daughter's gift (Angela Bassett), the cryptic, emotionally distant tutor with unorthodox teaching methods in Dr. Larabee, and even the predictable backlash of resentment from Akeelah's friends after she reaches celebrity status.
However, there are two key reasons why this film works. The first is the Akeelah' goal. It is not the state championship or some other sporting event. She is not trying to win a medal or make the team. She is trying to win a spelling bee, something that people are quick to criticize but few are able to do. I personally was ousted from my sixth grade bee for misspelling the word "reckon" (which I still contest to this day, is not an actual word). For this reason I spent the whole movie rooting for Akeelah's success. I could care less if she could shoot a jump-shot.
The second reason to see this movie is Keke Palmer. She does a great job playing her character. You simultaneously feel her anxiety and elation, something I was not expecting. Good child actors are hard to find, and when you do, they have the shelf life of a dented milk carton. This is one of the many reasons I feel movies like The Chronicles of Narnia fall short. The casting director of this movie should be given a bonus.
All in all you will really enjoy this film. If not for the story itself maybe it will help you reminisce about all the geeky hobbies you had as a kid. Like falconing. I mean I never personally was into falconing, it's just an example. Oh and in case you were wondering "Floccinaucinihilipilification" means: "the estimation of something as worthless," though it is often just used as an example of a ridiculously long word.