Akeelah and the Bee, which in addition to its underdog roots also manages to come across as a mesh between the documentary Spellbound and Boyz N the Hood refitted with a happy ending, is the latest of this month’s inspirational yarns (following Taking the Lead and Preaching to the Choir). It’s also the most genuinely touching. The lion’s share of the credit for its success goes to Keke Palmer, who essays the central role of Akeelah Anderson. Growing up in south LA with her widowed mother (Angela Bassett) and two older siblings, Akeelah’s only true passion is for spelling -- a seemingly frivolous fancy considering her dour surroundings and dead end options. But determined to somehow put his decrepit school on the map, the principal Mr. Welch (Curtis Armstrong) encourages Akeelah to try out for a competition that will determine which student will represent them in upcoming spelling bees. Akeelah easily trounces the competition and in doing so catches the eye of Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), Mr. Welch’s friend and a former spelling wiz himself. From the mental approach espoused by Dr. Larabee to the presence of an unsmiling nemesis, Akeelah and the Bee milks the Karate Kid/Rocky formula to such an exhaustive degree that you half-expect a character to bellow "Yo, Adrian!" or order Akeelah to "wax on, wax off." But what sets the film apart is the manner in which it details how Akeelah’s triumphs end up lifting the entire community. Her success is their success, and it’s truly inspiring to watch neighbors from all walks of life throw their support behind her.



More by Matt Brunson

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