The Season of the Bee
"Bee Season" is a movie for those who love to analyse what they watched, look at the different levels and hidden depths of the story, the performances or a single scene. It's not a movie if all you are looking for is some entertainment because on face value it's not entertaining, in fact it left me slightly confused and disappointed after the first time I watched it. But then watched a second time and analyzed I can see what directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel were trying to achieve with their adaptation of Myla Goldberg's novel. This is a movie about a dysfunctional family, a melodrama where we become aware that the initial seemingly happy family is in fact fragile and is about to collapse around the ears of father Saul who is oblivious to it's fragile state. As I said it's not a movie which will simply entertain but will deliver different layers if you like to over analyze movies.
The Naumann's appear to be a pretty balanced family and when Eliza Naumann (Flora Cross) starts winning spelling bee's she is the toast of the family. But her sudden success also disrupts the family as father Saul (Richard Gere - Unfaithful) sees some mystical power in the way Eliza manages to spell difficult words awakening a religious yearning deep inside him. It also leads to her mother Miriam (Juliette Binoche - Chocolat) behaving very strangely and he brother Aaron (Max Minghella) looking for answers to questions which aren't being satisfied in the home. As the national spelling bee gets closer the Naumann family spiral out of control as Saul is oblivious to it all.
It has to be said that "Bee Season" does take some time to get going and for ages it seems a little airy fairy and confusing. You watch as we are introduced to the Naumann family, a family which looks reasonably normal with father Saul being a professor of religion who delights in making sure his children have a great education. And we continue to watch as we discover young Eliza has some form of special talent when it comes to Spelling competitions. But between the mystical visualisations of Eliza seeing words in her head and what appears to be normal it's all a little strange, especially as we watch Miriam seeming to be searching for something in different houses.
What basically follows is the collapse of the family as Saul sees some mystical power in Eliza and suddenly takes a greater interest in her ability. Saul's son Aaron feeling like his father's religious dedication at odds with his own and Miriam becoming more and more fragile as her strange behaviour gets out of control. All of which goes on without Saul really noticing how fragile the family is. Now on face value all of this is all very strange and rather dull as it's not completely clear as to what is happening. But it has layer upon layer on context which allows for plenty of in depth analysis of why Eliza is almost robotic, why Miriam acts so strange and so on.
But for me personally I found all of this drama surrounding the breakdown of the family rather dull and far too strange. It at times feels like there are 3 separate movies going on and they don't interlink very well. One minute we have Eliza and her seemingly mystical power to spell hard words, the next we focus on Aaron and his disillusionment with his father's religious fever and then suddenly we go to Miriam and her strange behaviour. It just doesn't work and makes it all the more confusing, maybe intentionally so.
And to be honest it feels like directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel realise they can't do each storyline credit so give more screen time to Eliza and her mystical spelling power. The trouble is that the various visualisations used to demonstrate why Eliza can spell such complex words is all a bit surreal and at times far too reminiscent of "A Beautiful Mind". It feels like to try and make "Bee Season" entertaining directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have focussed on this section and played up the mysticism side but in doing so makes it feel just far too strange.
What is good though are the various performances. Juliette Binoche gives a solid performance as the fragile Miriam despite her story not getting enough time and Max Minghella gets across the sense of searching for something else as son Aaron. Even Richard Gere gives a good performance as Saul, not so much in the final section where the collapse of his family becomes apparent but in the earlier phases as he gets across the complete dedication to religious studies.
But it is the young Flora Cross who really impresses as Eliza as she delivers a whole range of emotion. You get a glimpse at the dysfucntionality of the family through her eyes, her fear that she would rather slip her father a letter than speak to him, the bond she gets when her father appears to take an interest and then the realisation that his interest is not in her but her mystical talent. It maybe because "Bee Season" focuses mainly on her but for me it is Cross who makes it interesting.
What this all boils down to is that "Bee Season" is a confusing movie and one which seems a bit surreal in more than a few places. It isn't your normal sort of entertainment it is a movie begging for you to analyze, to peel away the layers to understand the characters and understand the way the family collapses through a basic lack of communication. And as such if you watch "Bee Season" to be entertained on the simplest level the chances are it will come across as dull, strange and confusing but if you enjoy analyzing movies then it will be entertaining.