Friday, April 06, 2007

Obscure Movie Review Of The Day: Akeelah and the Bee

I wasn't expecting this to be a nearly perfect movie.

See, here's the thing. If I tell you what this movie's about, you know the whole story. If I say, "It's about a girl from a bad family who goes to a bad school in a bad neighborhood who starts competing in spelling bees," then you can fill in all the blanks. Probably you guess she finds a wise old mentor. Probably you guess a lot of stuff. I know I did, and I was right about all of it.

But here's what I wasn't expecting: Them to get it all exactly right. And, boy howdy, did they get this movie right.

Oh, I was leary, looking for stuff to jump on right from the start. The first thing we see about Akeelah, our introduction to the character, is when her teacher is handing out graded spelling tests. She's handing out Ds here and Fs there and she comes to Akeelah.

"How long did you study for this test?" the teacher asks.

"I didn't," Akeelah responds.

And the teacher hands her her paper face down and says, "See me after class."

And when Akeelah slides her paper to the edge of the desk and peeks at the grade, there's a great big red A+.

Ah-ha!, I thought. I'd caught the writers in their first mistake.

See, it's kind of a rule for writers that if you want to establish dramatic tension, you don't make your hero naturally good at whatever it is they have to do. If you're writing a story about a person who has to survive on a cold, harsh world, you don't make him a survivalist who's had cold-weather survival training. You make him a teenager who's always lived in cushy, warm environments and who's never prepared his own meals.

So if the writers had decided to make Akeelah an abnormally good speller right from the start, they'd blown it right at the start, hadn't they?

Well, no. Because ultimately, this movie isn't about learning how to spell.

Now don't get me wrong--this movie also doesn't make the ridiculous mistake so many movies are tempted to make that just because she's naturally good at this that she can easily go toe-to-toe with kids who, you know, study and stuff. So many movies want us to believe that the hero can win the signing contest or the talent contest against all the others who've spent their whole lives practicing and trying just because the hero suddenly decided they wanted to bad enough. This movie doesn't fall into that trap either.

It takes the time to show how complicated and involved the world of competitive spelling is. But the movie still isn't about spelling.

It's about the battle that each of us has with ourselves and the world around us, the battle between what we know, what we love, what we want to be, what we hope we might be, the battle between all those things and the so-called "realities" of life, the self-doubt, the worries about what people around us are thinking, the fears of rejection. It's a movie about possibilities. Possibilities we dread and possibilities we almost are afraid to dare hope for.

It's all summed up in this quote, which the wise old mentor has Akeelah read off the wall of his office:

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate,
but that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine,
we consciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

The quote is true. So is the movie.

And when you watch it (And yes, you must watch it), at the end of the movie, when it seems Akeelah has found an exception, when she's about to shrink for the sake of another, and they almost have you thinking that would be okay, remember the quote again.

And when we see that when the impossible happens, the miracle no one believed possible occurred, remember that it was when no one shrunk back--it was when everyone did their best, played off each other, that they could do what no one else had ever done.

Watch it.

And then go out and be the best person you can be, so everybody else can be, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Liked very much your review of Akeelah and the Bee -
Btw, that quote is originally Nelson Mandella's - a text to live by.