Bee Season

(2005) *** Pg-13
104 min. Fox Searchlight Pictures. Directors: David Siegel, Scott McGehee. Cast: Juliette Binoche, Richard Gere, Max Minghella, Kate Bosworth, Flora Cross.
Myla Goldberg's novel Bee Season becomes one of the fall's funkiest pictures, as directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel. A husband, wife, teenage son, and 11-year-old daughter comprise the apparently successful Naumann family. In fact, the clan is coming apart at the seams, even as little Eliza discovers her preternatural talent for spelling. As played with disturbing blankness by Flora Cross, Eliza craves love, but soon adopts the zen release that escapes the rest of her desperately day-seizing family. Mom is artfully suppressing signs of distress, and high-achieving Dad throws himself into work: as a Judaism Scholar, college professor, and—eventually—spelling-bee coach. Meanwhile, brother Aaron (well-played by Max Minghella) yearns for spiritual release from his father's suffocating, intellectualized faith. Juliette Binoche and Richard Gere do good work as the parents, but the stars are primarily behind the scenes: McGehee, Siegel, and screenwriter Naomi Foner guide a somewhat somnambulant narrative to an ending that's as redemptive for the film as its characters. Not everything works here (Eliza's visualizations begin to seem a bit twee by the third or fourth time around), but patience is rewarded in this endearingly unusual modern fable about the true meaning of achievement and the errant paths of earthly self-interest.
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