I’m probably going to end up knocking this flick far more than I praise it even though I’m giving it a B (get it, Bee? Hardy Har Har). I think I’m obligated to go this route because everyone and their momma is going to praise this to the high heavens but there will definitely be people who won’t ever want to see a film like this. What will your decision come down to? Motivation.
What are you looking for in a film? In my mind filmmakers have one of two goals with damn near every movie. The first is to entertain; this effort can be seen in everything from big box office thrillers to romantic comedies, hell even horrors too. The other route movies go is to teach something. This is the case with most of the dramas in the world. Films like Searching For Bobby Fisher, Dangerous Minds, 187, Schindler’s List, these are serious films that might have doses of laughter or joy but really are out there to shed light on an issue or event. Certain rare films do both, educate and entertain, but this is clearly the path of the truly brave because about one of those suckers comes out a year – something like Magnolia, Fight Club, Elizabethtown, and Dave Chappelle’s Block Party (the last two of those films reviewed here and here).
Now where was I going with this? Oh yes, if you are going into Akeelah looking to be fully entertained it might be rough sailing. If your goal is to see something with a bit of a social consciousness maybe you’ll have a “feel good” hit here. To me this is like pizza versus vegetables. Everyone wants to be entertained (pizza) and maybe that’s what movies should be eh? I know I don’t get my learning from film, I read to learn. Whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words is full of bunk because if you spotted me a thousand words I could get that silly picture in your head and still have room for a soliloquy. Films don’t usually teach because they lack depth. Akeelah is no different in that sense, it lacks depth and leans heavily on sentiment and tired plot points but it does feel good at the end which is worth something.
The reason you will see so much flowery language devoted to this effort is because no one wants to come off as racist, a hater of kids, or some kind of non-lover of spelling. This is because the plot of the flick is the gal Akeelah as an inner city student trying to make good. She goes to school in a horrific L.A. neighborhood where kids don’t know how to spell “grovel”. She’s facing all the things you’d expect, gang bangers, kids who hate “smarties” and a mom who works nights and can’t always be there for her. Throw in a dad who died and you’ve got your class A Hollywood hero. Thankfully her spelling potential is noticed and she’s pretty much forced into a school spelling bee. You can imagine where it goes from there. Laurence Fishburne comes along to help coach and teach that words are nothing more than the Matrix. He’s decent in the role. Angela Bassett doesn’t fare as well with the typical “hard nosed mom beset upon by the trials and tribulations of raising kids all alone in the ghetto” effort. She was almost unwatchable for parts of the film.
The good news is this kid Keke Palmer. She’s a tremendous young actor who does much more with the role than anyone could reasonably expect. Like Keisha Castle-Hughes we owe her one for turning what could have been sap into something above average. She’s nothing less than awesome here and even though I didn’t see Madea’s Family Reunion (because I don’t like pain) I hope we see more of her in the near future. The film also has a genre busting ending and two other solid performances, one of which comes from J.R. Villarreal as the Latin sidekick smooth speller type. The other comes from Eddie Steeples whom I’d only known as “Crabman” on My Name is Earl.
At the end of the day you’ll get some spelling montages, (because there is no way to “sexy” up spelling study) a few sugary sweet moments and some actual feel good moments too. Should you see it? Well, as I mentioned before, examine your motivations. Actually, if you have kids, yeah just go ahead and see it, you probably need the break. If notÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ well you can probably find something a smidge more entertaining elsewhere. How’s that for painting a picture? Trust me, if I’d taken the full thousand words you’d have probably died from joy. Education requires patience, eh?