Child performances are a tricky thing. Most are the kind of awful, spew inducing stuff that makes you think the NSPCC should be disbanded. But every now and again you get a Natalie Portman in Leon, the entire cast of Stand By Me or Ariana Richards in Tremors. In other words performances of such greatness you think children may indeed be our future. But to carry a film by yourself before you're of the age where you get a National Insurance number thats just crazy. Dakota Fannings agent is crazy.
Here Dakota plays Lily Owens a 14 year old white girl looking for a mother she may or may not have shot dead when she was 4. As pitches go its not exactly got 'box office hit' written on it. Regardless Lily sets out on her journey armed with a picture of her ma and a label from a jar of honey with a black Virgin Mary on it. The latter leads her to a bee farm where Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and (the only one who is actually an actress) Sophie Okonedo take in the little girl and teach her the ways of life. And bees.
Dakota does a pretty good job as the lost little girl. She acts Jennifer Hudson off the screen (but so could Jason Statham) and holds her own against the other 'actresses'. But for all her hard work The Secret Life of Bees does not work as a film. Its so obviously an adaptation that the book comes first and while there are some touching moments it never flows in any way, shape or form. The fact that it feels like an adaptation of some chic lit, 'sisters are doing it for themselves' bullshit is even harder to swallow as I'd imagine the source material is stronger than this suggests.
My biggest beef though is the non-diagetic music (get me, I've got a BA in film!). When you have a film set in 1964 you have some of the greatest soundtrack possibilities. You can choose from Aretha or Ray or Nina or any other actual artist. Yet the film makers have chosen to put some god awful Jamie Cullum type shit that takes you straight out of the movie and staring vacantly in the soul less music of today. To be fair when they stick on the radio (thats diagetic music folks!) real 60's jazz, blues and soul comes out but for the big scenes it all about contemporary singers warbling cockspit at you with utter contempt. For this alone I'd not recommend Bees to anyone other than insectophiles.