Dakota Fanning (left) and Queen Latifah play too-sweet characters.
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES (Gina Prince-Bythewood). 110 minutes. Opens Friday (October 17). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
You could practically bathe in the suds of this adaptation of the soapy, Oprah-approved novel by Sue Monk Kidd.
The story tracks young white Lily (Dakota Fanning), who with her nanny Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) seeks refuge inside the South Carolina home of three black Boatwright women (Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo and Queen Latifah) who independently operate a successful honey business in the early 60s.
The characters are too good to be true, and the story is predictable (gee, do you think there'll be a confrontation between the Boatwright women and Lily's abusive father?), but the civil rights theme resonates strongly in the political age of Obama.
And the performances are terrific. Hudson proves that her Academy Award was no fluke, young Tristan Wilds, as the hive worker who gets
into trouble with some of the rednecks, has real charisma, and Okonedo is heartbreaking as the emotionally ravaged May.
But the real surprise is Keys. Anyone (like me) who thinks she's overrated as a singer and was given a free pass into this cast will be impressed by the way she conveys both the imperiousness and the vulnerability of June.
Expect Oscar to call on at least one of them.