In the course of her career, Dakota Fanning has been given the opportunity to star alongside some of Hollywood's biggest names. From Mike Myers in The Cat in the Hat and Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds to Sean Penn and Michelle Pfeiffer in I Am Sam, Fanning has quickly compiled a strong resume that rarely shows a sign of flaw or misguided loyalty. Her characters have always been strong, helping her to build a fan base of mass proportion as she becomes a rare constant in a business of ever-constant change. Luckily, her strong resume grows stronger as she stars alongside Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys as Lily Owens, a young girl who runs away in hopes of answering the questions that surround her mother's unfortunate death.
Though the film contains an all-star cast, The Secret Life of Bees excels more with its story than its acting. Set in 1964, the film possesses a tone and visual appeal unlike any film in recent memory. The colors are vivid as they portray a land of freedom and bliss as you walk along with Lily and Rosaleen, played by Academy-Award winner Jennifer Hudson, joining them on their journey as they must overcome obstacles and search for clues that will ultimately shine a light on the unknowing aspects of Lily's mother.
The premise is a simple one; almost too simple in fact. But playing to its strengths, the film allows you to focus in on the metaphorical aspects of the story, enriching your mind and forcing you to think rather than sit and look. The film thrives on its deeper meanings, personifying them and allowing audience members to see the effects they have on people's lives. And though many will be distracted by the racial tensions and stereotypical aspects of the 1960s, those that can overlook them, will know and understand that the film carries so much more than what initially meets the eye.
Complimenting the story is an elite cast of woman, led by the brilliant Dakota Fanning. Though young in age, Fanning is able to grasp her character, reaching out to all those watching and touching their heart and soul as the innocent and free-willed Lily Owens. Her performance is dead on as she is forced to deal with the racial struggles of the time, creating the innocence and immaturity that exists within every unknowing child. Combine that with her dead on interactions with her abusive father and best-friend Rosaleen, and Fanning proves that she is coming into her own as she gives the most mature and intense performance of her young career.
Adding to the film are Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys, all of whom are outshined by the underrated and underappreciated Sophie Okonedo who plays the emotional Boatwright sister May. Though hardly allowed to steer the film on her own, Okonedo successfully catapults her career into overdrive by giving the most sincere and authentic performance of the bunch. Her delicate motions and serene voice not only sooths your soul as you watch in amazement, but it helps to transcend the film as you get to see a more tranquil side to an otherwise hectic time in our nation's history. Her every moment is detrimental to the film's overall success as she delivers a knockout performance that will allow viewers to fully relate to the emotional and aspiring story.
Together, the film's aspects come together with seamless precision as it grasps at your heartstrings, sending you on an emotional ride that will have many on the brink of tears by the end. Combat that with an impeccable performance from the entire cast and a story that is as dynamic as it is enchanting, and The Secret Life of Bees is the first dark-horse Oscar contender of 2008.