Thursday, April 27, 2006

Akeelah and the Bee: Worth the cross-marketing

I was a little ambivalent about going to see Akeelah and the Bee in the same way that I'm ambivalent about patronizing Starbucks, which is so heavily promoting this movie. Witness the ambivalence:

On the one hand, Starbucks does make an effort to be a good "corporate citizen" by associating itself with worthy community causes, and aiming to treat its employees better than the average fast-food chain does. But on the other hand, it's an exceedingly profitable business and an aggressively expanding chain that's been adding to the homogenization of our country's landscape.

Likewise, on the one hand, I wouldn't have been so quick to choose Akeelah out of the dozens of selections currently on offer at the Tribeca Film Festival if it hadn't been from the Starbucks promotions. But it is going into wide release tomorrow, and there are probably a lot of other decent movies in the festival that won't score such big distribution deals.

Happily I can say that this film was well worth seeing, despite all the ambivalence. And the free Starbucks coffee and tea was a nice touch as well. It's a feel-good, stand-up-and-cheer type of movie that features some really strong performances and manages to avoid feeling too cliche while at the same time tugging at your heartstrings. And it's got a pretty funky soundtrack, too. I can only hope that it does well nationwide.

We saw the movie in the biggest auditorium at the Loews Lincoln Square. Sitting upstairs in the front row of the balcony, it's not too hard to squint and imagine you're in one of the old ornate movie houses, after which it's modeled. And the screening was extra special because the director, Doug Atchison, and one of the actresses, Dalia Phillips, were on hand to introduce it. So when the audience applauded at the end, you knew for once that some of the creators were actually there to appreciate it. For Atchison, it's almost 12 years in the making; he told the audience that the idea for the movie came to him in 1994, and the script was ready by 1999, but it's just now hitting theaters.

Oh, and one more business-side note: The film's opening credits actually list "Starbucks Entertainment," so this is more than just your average Happy Meal tie-in.

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