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With: Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Cross, Max Minghella, Kate Bosworth
Written by: Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal, based on the novel by Myla Goldberg
Directed by: Scott McGehee, David Siegel
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, a scene of sensuality and brief strong language
Running Time: 104
Date: 09/03/2005

Bee Season (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Winning 'Season'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End), Bee Season has already lined up an impressive array of detractors. Perhaps they're upset with the inadequate adaptation of a beloved book (by Myla Goldberg), or with the fact that Buddhist Richard Gere portrays a Jewish scholar named Saul.

But looking at the film itself, Bee Season unfolds as a lovely, patient portrait of a family in spiritual crisis. Like the recent The Squid and the Whale, each of the four family members gets equal treatment, and though these characters aren't quite as humorously damaged as in Squid, their quiet searching provides a potent emotional resonance.

Saul's area of study is "God's container," a theoretical object that shattered long ago, and from which devoted disciples search for "pieces" in an effort to find completeness. Saul's wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche) quite literally searches for pieces; she's a kleptomaniac who steals trinkets from neighbor's homes. Son Aaron (Max Minghella) begins exploring alternate religions when a beautiful girl (Kate Bosworth) leads him to Hare Krishna.

But it's the youngest daughter, 11 year-old Eliza (the remarkable Flora Cross), who sees the biggest transformation. Entering the school spelling bee, she discovers that the correct letters gradually appear to her. As she goes on to bigger, statewide competitions, her father takes an interest and tries to link her talent to his studies.

Screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal (Jake and Maggie's mom) and directors McGehee and Siegel balance these relationships with consummate precision. Eliza craves her father's attention, but he's too overbearing; it's all or nothing with him. In fact, the movie in no small way implies that Aaron's spiritual wandering and Miriam's crime spree may have something to do with Saul's on-again, off-again smothering.

Our co-directors come up with vivid, visual manifestations of these internal conflicts, notably the film's opening image: a reference to Fellini's La Dolce Vita in which a helicopter lowers a giant "A" into a (fictitious) "Oakland" sign. And a series of magical (locally produced) CG effects helps Eliza spell at her various bees. But the real treat is the dazzling fruit of Miriam's labors, which shall remain secret for now.

Best of all is that Bee Season bravely handles the subject of religious spirituality without pointing in any particular direction; it's not preachy, and it doesn't care which church you belong to. It's enough to sense that something's missing and to find some creative, fulfilling way to go after it.

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