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Bee Season


Spelling bees seem to be enjoying a revival and a boost in the coolness factor. The national championships are televised on ESPN and gamblers bet on contestants on-line. There's a Tony-award winning musical about bees (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) and author Myla Goldberg's novel Bee Season has been made into a widely released movie.

But don't be fooled, Bee Season isn't about spelling bees, not really. It's about a family -- The Naumann's -- falling apart, and a bee is just the catalyst that makes it all happen. After their youngest member, Eliza (Flora Cross), qualifies for the regional bee, everything seems to change. Her father Saul (Richard Gere), a religious professor at Berkeley, begins to pay a lot more attention to her and the two set up study sessions during which he goes over word lists and teaches her about Jewish mysticism.

Her brother Aaron (Michael Mangiella) envies the newfound place she has earned in their father's heart and starts experiencing a hardcore bout of sibling jealously. He starts rebelling not by doing drugs or dying his hair but by experimenting with…religion. Meanwhile, their mom Miriam (Juliette Binoche) just starts getting weirder and weirder. Their dad is as hot as their mother is cold and the kids are simply tepid.

Bee Season has a strong religion motif. Troubled Miriam takes the Kabbalist concept of Tikkum Olam (to put it simply: making the world whole again one piece/action at a time) to the next level while Eliza discovers a whole new plane of existence through the mystic teachings her father imparts upon her. However, directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel stray from laying it on too thick.

However, the movie could have benefited from less religion and more spelling bee. While all the performances were strong, none merited anything beyond a second look. Indeed, everything about the film was, in a word: mediocre.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars