Director Doug Atcheson, also credited as the writer brought the world this intriguingly named movie in 2006.
Director Doug Atcheson, also credited as the writer brought the world this intriguingly named movie in 2006. It’s not about small furry insects that fly in the face of the laws of aerodynamics (literally) but instead is concerned with one of those great American traditions that are all but incomprehensible to anyone outside the States, a spelling bee, basically a contest where school and college students compete against each other to spell various words.
Hardly riveting stuff you might think. Fortunately, the story is not all about the contest itself but concerns the efforts of eleven year old Akeelah Anderson, a bright girl who has an appalling home life. Her father is long since dead, her mother has no interest in her daughter whatsoever and her brother is the kind of tearaway that should really be looked up and the key thrown into the nearest river. Consequently her schooling is suffering badly and she is forced to participate in a local spelling bee to avoid punishment for her many absences. When she wins, her principal decides to enter her for the National spelling bee and she is given a tutor in the form of Dr Larabee, a man with his own demons to be faced down. The competition is going to be fierce with many of her contemporaries coming from much more privileged backgrounds and Akeelah has to try to balance her dysfunctional family life with winning what could be a life changing event for her.
Though it’s an unusual subject for a major movie, this film doesn’t concentrate so much on the spelling bee itself as the character of Aleekah, and fortunately, Keke Palmer has the acting chops to carry it off. She plays Aleekah with subtlety and a maturity that belies her years, a star in the making. She is backed up by an equally excellent cast assembled by writer and director Doug Atcheson including the always memorable Laurence Fishburn as the troubled English professor Dr Larabee and Atcheson makes full use of his cast. A brave and intelligent movie that rewards repeated viewing.