Bee Season

Bee Season, based on the novel by Myla Goldberg, is a portrait of a family in crisis. Each member faces his/her problems separately, breaking the family up further. It's an ambitious film that mixes Kabbalah, spelling bees, and family dynamics, wrapped up in a search for belonging. And it probably works better as a novel than a movie. The characters for Bee Season search for how they fit in the bigger schemes of life. While it is easy to identify with these four people on a superficial level, the emotion behind what they do does not come out in the film. As a result, the movie feels distant and even a bit forced at times.

Things come to a head when Eliza Naumann (Flora Cross) begins winning local spelling bees. She was always good at spelling, but "never this good."  Eliza feels neglected by her father Saul (Richard Gere, Shall We Dance, Chicago), a professor of Jewish mysticism. Saul dotes on his son Aaron (Max Minghella), Eliza's older brother.  The two often play duets, Saul on violin and Aaron on cello. Meanwhile, Saul's wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche, In My Country, Jet Lag) is distant and in her own world. Once Saul notices that Eliza is winning, and believes that she has the ability to go further, he focuses all of his attention on her.

Eliza revels in the attention of her father, even as his pressure begins take its toll on her. He practices constantly with her, mixing word drills with New Age type exercises. Aaron resents that his father is spending less time and attention on him.  He is at the age where he begins questioning some of the deeper truths in life, and Judaism and Kabbalah just do not work for him. In looking for something different, he meets Chali (Kate Bosworth, Beyond the Sea, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton), a Hare Krishna. He likes that she brings a sense of contentment and peace, something he cannot find at home.  Miriam drifts further apart from the family, spending long amounts of time away from home and work.

As Eliza continues to win and advance towards the finals, tensions in the family continue to rise. The acting is good, but the problem with Bee Season is that directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End, Suture) cannot build an emotional connection to the audience. Sure, it is a difficult thing to do with everybody drifting further apart. But they and adapter Naomi Foner (Losing Isaiah, A Dangerous Woman) fail to establish any sort of connection between the four individuals and the audience. Nobody can relate to their isolation and desire for some sort of larger connection. In their efforts to have the characters establish a connection with each other, they fail to do the same with the audience. This blunts any emotional highs or lows, giving the film an unintended feeling of ambivalence.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 44 minutes, Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language.

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