Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
Akeelah Anderson can spell. She can spell better than anyone in her school in South Central Los Angeles, and she might have a chance at the nationals. Who can say? She sees the National Spelling Bee on ESPN and is intrigued. But she is also wary, because in her school there is danger in being labeled a "brainiac," and it's wiser to keep your smarts to yourself. This is a tragedy in some predominantly black schools: Excellence is punished by the other students, possibly as an expression of their own low self-esteem.
The thing with Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is that she can spell, whether she wants to or not. Beating time with her hand against her thigh as sort of a metronome, she cranks out the letters and arrives triumphantly at the words. No, she doesn't have a photographic memory, nor is she channeling the occult as the heroine of "Bee Season" does.
She's just a good speller.
The story of Akeelah's ascent to the finals of the National Spelling Bee makes an uncommonly good movie, entertaining and actually inspirational, and with a few tears along the way. Her real chance at national success comes after a reluctant English professor agrees to act as her coach. This is Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), on a leave of absence after the death of his daughter. Coaching her is a way out of his own shell. And for Fishburne, it's a reminder of his work in "Searching for Bobby Fischer" (1993), another movie where he coached a prodigy.