Hippo Manchester
December 8, 2005

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Film: Bee Season (PG-13)  C+
by Amy Diaz

Richard Gere plays the overbearing, insufferable father of a spelling bee champ in Bee Season.

And, really, if you need an actor to be insufferable, Gere’s an easy call. Because he is insufferable. He is not, however, terribly believable as a cabala-obsessed religion professor, and here’s where many of this movie’s problems lie.

Saul Naumman (Gere) is not just obsessed with some of the more obscure elements of Judaism but he’s also a bit obsessed with himself. He believes himself to be a good father, a good husband and possessing a mind unusually attuned to life’s greater philosophical questions. He is these things, to a point, but he is also rather overbearing, taking on his children’s interests as though they are his own. His interest in Eliza (Flora Cross) seems slight until she begins to win spelling championships. Then he changes his schedule to study with her and begins to ignore his oldest son Aaron (Max Minghella), who both wants his dad’s approval and wants to get out from under his thumb.

Painfully aware of her husband’s tendency to ignore or suffocate but incapable of doing anything about it is Miriam (Juliet Binoche), a jumpy woman who seems much more at home in moments by herself than in moments with other people.

The family is fractured — the idea of pieces and whether or how they can be put back together being central to the movie. Each family member, each shard, reflects the events of their lives differently. Aaron wants peace, as to some extent does Miriam, though both go about finding peace in strange and destructive ways. Eliza, 11, doesn’t entirely understand why her family is falling apart but she looks internally to attempt to fix it with a focus that Saul can only pretend to understand.

Cross and Minghella are excellent actors and even Binoche is not a completely incongruous choice for their fragile mother. But in Gere’s case, his Gereness is difficult to get past. Even in roles that call for him to be unlikeable, he wants you, there, the person in the audience, to think he’s a nice guy. This kind of extra-character neediness can really kill any of the realism a scene might have had.

By no means a great film, Bee Season offers a refreshingly thinky, nerdy story that gives you plenty of thinky, nerdy ideas to mull over.