There's an intriguing visual approach to a picture not about insects, but spelling and spirituality.
From directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End), Bee Season has much intelligence to it and appears to have been carefully adapted by Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal from a 2000 novel. But, for all of its introspection, hardly any warmth is brought on by what is a little intense, and for many, fairly confusing.
The story centers on the Naumann family who lives in Oakland. The daughter of the Jewish family is Eliza, an appealing Flora Cross, a sixth grader with amazing spelling ability. Her achievements will make her parents more attentive towards her. Her father Saul (Richard Gere) is a Berkeley Bible Studies professor and highly influenced by Jewish mysticism. Her scientist mother Miriam (Juliette Binoche) is still dealing with the loss of her parents from a car accident. The casting of Cross carries more weight with more than a passing resemblance to the veteran French actress Binoche.
Eliza's older brother Aaron, well played by Max Minghella, has cello-violin duets with his dad, but as she advances up the spelling bee ladder (through the state finals) he strays from Judiasm when he meets a beautiful blonde Hare Krishna, Chali (Kate Bosworth of Beyond the Sea).
This film is lushly produced, aided strongly by the lensing of Giles Nuttgens, with visual effects for letters and words that are important to life's meanings. The narrative derives plenty from the Kaballah, as well as kleptomania, Krishna and Catholicism. Saul works deliberately with Eliza who is inspired and excels from a deeply divine meditation that has her eyes closed. As the family tries to quench their spiritual thirst and Eliza gets into the Scripps Howard national contest, the dysfunctional qualities manifest themselves. What should be more provocative and poignant turns to viewer detachment even in the face of trying to unlock what holds these people together.
McGehee and Siegel are able to insert some humor and a friskiness at times, but the motivations from the Kaballah appears to undermine something not really contrived that seems to end without the desired justification. Gere and Binoche fare considerably less than their younger counterparts as Saul infuses scholarly pride and jealousy while Miriam has a secret life that holds more dramatic implications, along with Aaron. There is swirling imagery as the main issues prove that "something is missing in life." But, through all of the thoughtfulness from how the language we communicate is formulated, this Season doesn't speak as soundly as Eliza does from the way God speaks to her.