“Honey, you’re the buzz in ‘Bee Season.’
Isn’t that bee-autiful?”

Let There Be Letters

God. For such a three-letter word, is there more mysterious and overwhelming to define? Here I thought “Bee Season” was about a spelling bee contestant and what I get is a family breaking in pieces as each member strives to be closer to God.

Newcomer Flora Cross stars as Eliza Naumann, the aforementioned speller. Her spelling skill involves supernatural forces at work. When she closes her eyes, she can visualize letters that helps her spell. Although she tells no one about this, her father (Richard Gere) senses something. He, a professor of Jewish theology (?), thinks that his daughter has the ability to communicate with God. Sure, prayer works too, but that’s like talking to God with two tin cans tied together by a piece of string. Eliza’s talent is more of a fully charged cell phone with a really strong signal. God, can you hear now?

With the father focused on Eliza, the teenage son Aaron (Max Minghella) feels left out. Perhaps out of soul searching, Aaron begins to ponder about other religions other than his own. Or maybe it’s simply a move caused by a growing resentment towards his dad. Meanwhile, Mommy Naumann (Juliette Binoche) is even more distant than the rest of the family. She’s up to something too and she’s coming home late because of it.

I want to use the word “spellbinding” somewhere in this review, but alas, the movie can’t be described with that word. Mystifying? Yes. Strange? Yes. Boring? Maybe. The biggest flaw of “Bee Season” is that it takes tooooo looooong to take shape and that’s a good reason to call it boring. At the halfway point, I’m still baffled as to what the heck is the movie’s theme. I didn’t know where it was going and it’s taking its sweet time to get there. The poor screenplay fails to establish the characters quickly, especially the Binoche character. She has a secret we find out towards the end. But had we known that secret early on, we could have spent most of the movie understanding her, rather than baffled by her actions. I, at least, got to see Flora Cross’ mesmerizing performance as Eliza. She may lack the cuteness and charm we typically see in child actors, but Cross has a silent intensity that penetrates the screen.

In my opinion, “Bee Season” is a good picture for viewers who have pondered deeply about the meaning of life, the purpose of one’s existence, and the presence of a Supreme Being. There’s just something soul shaking at the idea of having a direct communication with God. But as much as I’m fascinated with the spiritual theme, the story didn’t move me. While the Naumann family dynamics seems interesting, I didn’t find them to be a credible bunch. In spite all these problems, I couldn’t deny the spiritual food of the film. It’s worth chewing on; it’s nourishing for the soul.

Grade: B

Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Cross, Max Minghella, and Kate Bosworth
Screenplay by
Naomi Foner
Based on the novel by
Myla Goldberg
Directed by
Scott McGehee
David Siegel
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, a scene of sensuality and brief strong language