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Bee Season - Review

Bee Season

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

A FILM that boasts as many ideas as Bee Season could have benefited from spelling them out a little more clearly, given the convoluted mess that it eventually becomes.

Based on the popular novel by Myla Goldberg and adapted for the screen by Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal (mother to Maggie and Jake), the film follows young Bay Area sixth-grader Eliza (Flora Cross) as she begins to display an uncanny ability with words at the county Spelling Bee.

Her success in the tournament comes as a complete surprise to her family and eventually lands her a shot at the national prize – but it also carries a sting in its tail, serving to expose the instability of her family, both individually and as a unit.

For starters, her father, the religious professor Saul (Richard Gere), becomes so obsessed with his daughter’s success that he pretty much ignores the rest of his family, believing that words and letters hold all the secrets of the universe and that through her success, Eliza could gain God’s ear (as indicated in the preachings of an ancient Kabbalah scholar).

As a result, his son Aaron (Max Minghella), a promising scholar and cello player, turns to hare Krishna after meeting a beautiful woman (Kate Bosworth), while the family’s mother (Juliette Binoche) is forced to confront her own demons, lapsing into an ethereal state and wondering off on strange missions at all hours of the day and night.

The film that ensues is as odd and difficult to fathom as the premise sounds, frequently veering into spiritual and psychological terrain that often proves impenetrable.

Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who previously helmed The Deep End, do their best to keep things entertaining and audience-friendly by dropping in some clever visuals – such as a helicopter dangling a large capital A at the end of a cable at the beginning of the film and some attractive special effects to show how the words come to Eliza during the tournaments. But the more involved the film becomes in the religious aspects of the story, the less of a grip it holds on our attention.

Performance-wise, Bee Season is well-served by committed turns from both Gere and Cross but without a single character to genuinely identify with, or even root for, the film ends up fighting a lost cause.

The sub-plot involving Binoche becomes tedious, while Minghella’s sudden interest in hare Krishna comes from an unlikely meeting that automatically strains credibility.

As ambitious and well-meaning as the film may have seemed during production, it eventually becomes an infuriating affair that can only spell bad things for audience satisfaction.