Akeelah and the Bee

Rated 4.0

An 11-year-old African-American girl from South Central Los Angeles (Keke Palmer) sets her sights on entering the Scripps National Spelling Bee, with the coaching assistance of a dour college professor (Laurence Fishburne) and despite the misgivings of her working-class mother (Angela Bassett). Spelling-bee movies seem to have become a genre of their own in recent years, and director Doug Atchison’s script follows a standard formula. There are no surprises but, somehow, many delights—chief among them the performances Atchison draws from Fishburne, Bassett and (especially) Palmer, who carries the film with the effortless aplomb of a seasoned pro. This is the kind of movie that audiences gather to their hearts (see Finding Neverland, Good Will Hunting, etc.), and it seems almost churlish to resist.