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Overall Rating

Awesome: 20.75%
Worth A Look24.53%
Pretty Bad: 20.75%
Total Crap: 9.43%

6 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Bee Season
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by brianorndorf

"Don't listen to the marketing, and you'll enjoy it"
4 stars

The marketing for “Bee Season” is seriously misleading, promising a tender family journey that isn’t anywhere to be found. An exploration of enlightenment and familiar dysfunction, “Season” is fascinating and constantly surprising. Yet, the film is a chilly affair, and the squeeze to push a complicated book into the narrow space of a feature film is felt throughout.

Eliza Naumann (Flora Cross, making an extraordinary debut) is an 11 year-old with a remarkable gift for spelling. Her quiet spelling bee victories soon capture the attention of her family, including her father, Saul (Richard Gere), a religious studies professor, compulsive mother Miriam (Juliette Binoche), and older brother Aaron (Max Minghella). Saul begins to see a light in Eliza’s mystical skill that he interprets as an ability to channel God, and insists that she start investigating the teachings of Kabbalah to attain spiritual enlightenment. Saul’s singular attention to his daughter alienates the rest of the family, sending the Naumann family into the dark recesses of dysfunction.

“Bee Season” is a story packed with big ideas, not only on dysfunctional families, but also on religion and enlightenment and is not immune to the perils of adapting a big, complicated book into two-hour film. An unwieldy picture, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (“The Deep End,” “Suture”) should thank their lucky stars they have an immaculate cast to help sell this difficult tale.

A victim of a studio that hasn’t a clue how to market the film, “Bee Season” is hardly the touchy-feely motion picture that’s being presented to the public in commercials and trailers. The edges of the tale are much more coarse, tackling difficult ideas on transcendental behavior and mental illness. Based on the novel by Myla Goldberg, “Season” starts off as a routine excursion into the kitchen and bedroom of a family teetering on the edge of cracking. Using Eliza’s success as a springboard to divide the family, the filmmakers seem confident in their direction early on, relying on the cast to instill their own little moments of frailty to help nudge the drama, and utilizing creative special effects to convey the mind of Eliza as she meditates briefly during the contests.

Eventually, “Season” breaks the main characters up and sends them on their own private internal expeditions: Eliza begins to see her family start to erode, and worries her success is playing a major role in the break up; Saul carefully watches Eliza, wondering if his brilliant daughter might be a conduit to God through Kabbalah teachings; Aaron looks to the Hare Krishnas (including a cameo by Kate Bosworth) for alternative spiritual guidance; and Miriam, unable to deal with Eliza’s growth and her own tragic past, stumbles into madness. For a book, these detours are a cakewalk. The benefit of having hundreds of pages to explore the family dynamic is that the reader can take their time with carefully considered characterizations and digestible subtext. “Season,” as a film, chooses to pack all of this into a single movie, and the picture shows a serious case of the bends.

The co-directors certainly have a grasp on the visual representation of the material, and they wisely center the film around Flora Cross’s exceptionally expressive face, as Eliza is essentially a silent witness to her world. The acting work here is superb, even more impressive when you consider that each actor has been handed a role that is only partially realized. I especially responded to Richard Gere’s manic delivery as a father who is only now taking an interest in his family; Gere’s increasing wonderment over his daughter’s abilities is what keeps the magic in “Season” alive. Binoche, a wonderful actress, doesn’t fare nearly as well, unable to do anything with her seriously abbreviated role.

Because the directors approach the story in a clinical, mystical way, “Season” never lifts off the ground emotionally. The tale keeps bombarding the viewers with religious ideas and half-realized situations, never stopping to process and reorganize.

Still, “Bee Season” is a unique cinematic offering, and its dedication to the mysteries of the mind makes for a fascinating sit.

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originally posted: 11/11/05 16:24:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Chicago Film Festival For more in the 2005 Chicago Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2005 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

10/11/12 Mariflor Boring, couldn´t understand it at all. 2 stars
4/15/11 Robynne They struggle for enlightenment; She has it without trying. Simply beautiful! 5 stars
2/23/08 George Allenzo Wow, what a terribly boring crap!!! 1 stars
10/24/07 Ivana Mann Just tossing spirituality into a movie does not = deep meaning.Try again! 2 stars
8/20/07 Donald McGovern Much Ado Over Nothing! 2 stars
5/15/07 David Pollastrini Boooooring! 2 stars
8/21/06 J.D. Jirucha boring, dark, many unresolved plots, total waste of my time 2 stars
11/29/05 Louisa ugh 1 stars
11/29/05 Suzz a disjointed, disconnected film about connection. Miss it. 3 stars
11/21/05 Dagi Schmidt, writer of commentary book about 30 movies with R. Gere very sensitive adoption with a fligran screenplay 5 stars
11/12/05 jennifer pretentious crap 1 stars
11/09/05 tanja delightful, filled with messages 4 stars
11/05/05 May J. Abomination 1 stars
10/26/05 Ellen Genge awesome 5 stars
9/29/05 jason Grimshaw Beautiful and moving 5 stars
9/14/05 evelyn knowland extremely moving 5 stars
9/08/05 Lorna James horrible. 1 stars
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  11-Nov-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 04-Apr-2006

  27-Jan-2006 (12A)


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