Scott McGehee and David Siegel
Bee Season is on the surface a very predictable result of one of the big
breakout documentaries of the last few years, Spellbound.
as if it is a fictionalized account of one of the many children who enter
spelling bees in America. But, surely with help from its notorious star
Richard Gere, it is in fact a thinly disguised piece of religious
Eliza (Flora Cross) is an intelligent 11-year-old who is constantly
ignored by her lecturer father Sal (Gere) in favour of her older brother
Aaron (Max Minghella). This soon ends though when he discovers she has been
secretly entering spelling competitions and doing excellently. Sal than
pours all of his efforts into her plight, dropping Aaron and not taking an
interest in his slowly more unhinged wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche).
What isn't hinted at in the trailers for the film, or even my brief plot
description is that the film's main thrust is eventually the mix of
religious attitudes possessed by the family. Aaron, dismayed by his father's
sudden lack of interest in him, meets an attractive Buddhist, played by Kate
Bosworth. He soon finds salvation in the religion and integrates himself
into its traditions.
Sal's religion is also used as a counterpoint. He is Jewish but also
believes in Kabbalah, the much-maligned religion that was picked up by
numerous celebrities in recent years. He tries to instruct his daughter as
to how she can take part in a complicated ritual where she can be at one
with some spiritual blah blah blah. The sudden shift into religion bears
little relevance to the apparent thrust of the film. When the film does
focus on the more traditional family drama aspects and also Eliza's rise
through the various spelling rounds it is more entertaining.
Flora Cross makes a promising debut and easily outacts Gere. I've never
been a big fan of his and his performance here did little to convert me. It
doesn't help that his character is thinly drawn. His favouritism of his
children is so superficial and badly developed he is little more than a
cliché. Max Minghella, son of Anthony, again outacts the adult actors in the
film and shows potential for further roles.
The most bizarre element of the
film is Juliette Binoche's character. With little to do, the writers have given
her the strangest character arc I can remember in a film. She
has a 'secret', but I guarantee no one in the audience will guess what it
is. It's laughably random and has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of
When the film enters the final act, the religious undertones become more
apparent and in one odd effects scene take over the whole film and take out
any possible ambiguity. The film as a whole has a lack of focus and is too
muddled to have much resonance. In a crowded subgenre of the dysfunctional
family drama, this family-based entry, despite some decent child actors and
a hilarious subplot for Binoche, is hugely underwhelming.