Bee Season

Bee Season


Reviewed by: David Stanners

Jeffrey Blitz's cracking little documentary, Spellbound, put international spelling contests on the map a few years ago. The spelling bee then spread its wings across the water and recently burst onto British TV sets every Saturday night. Now, a few Americans have gone into silly mode with this latest edition, Bee Season.

Richard Gere is Saul, a college professor specialising in Jewish mythology. Oblivious to the fact his marriage and family are floating up shit creek, he pushes his talented daughter Eliza (Flora Cross) into the local spelling bee contest in the hope that she'll progress onto district, state and finally a take a shot at the national championships.

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With a name like Saul, naturally, the middle-aged mastermind has a deeper and more meaningful motive than spelling for spelling's sake. Being the mystic know-it-all that he is, he tries to fulfil his theory of the Kabala, which claims that if one concentrates hard enough on something, he will connect with God. On this occasion his daughter is his conduit. By concentrating on letters Saul hopes she will reach a new spiritual level, proving his theory.

Imposing his highflying spiritual academia on his family has come at a price. His teenage son Aaron (Max Minghella) is - surprise! surprise! - bored to the teeth of his father's wise aphorisms and, while attempting to shake hands with God in his own way, meets a cute blonde called Chali (Kate Bosworth). Of course, with a name like that (oh, the cliches) she just has to be a hippy and into Buddhism, which she is. Soon Aaron is, too, and his father doesn't like it.

Meanwhile, his poor little girl is slogging her guts out, head in a dictionary for hours a day, and his long-suffering wife Miriam (Juliette Binoche) reaches melt down. Arrested for stealing - a long-term habit - she also appears to have reached cloud cuckoo land, probably as much a result of listening to Saul, as any medical illness.

What starts out as a simple tale of spelling, descends into a completely fragmented narrative, each sub plot as random as the next. The biggest problem is its love of its own cleverness. In reality, the subjects tackled are far too arbitrary and abstract and mirroring the characters it portrays, the film ends with an identity crisis.

Binoche is a fine actress wasted and Gere, in the words of TV's Jonathan Ross, "hasn't done anything meaningful since American Gigolo and Internal Affairs." He seems content to impress the middle-aged ladies with his graceful ageing and sultry looks, but it just ain't cutting it anymore.

This bee has no sting.

Reviewed on: 27 Jan 2006
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Bee Season packshot
A father immerses himself in a quest to make his daughter a spelling champion while his family slowly falls apart.
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Director: Scott McGehee, David Siegel

Writer: Naomi Foner, based on the novel by Myla Goldberg

Starring: Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Cross, Max Minghella, Kate Bosworth, Corey Fischer, Sam Zuckerman, Joan Mankin, Piers Mackenzie, Lorri Holt, Brian Leonard

Year: 2005

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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