Original and intriguing but too often frustrating, Bee Season falls victim to its own obsession with words. Using the National Spelling Bee as a framework, Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche and young newcomer Flora Cross get tangled up in an overly intellectualised dialogue about self-discovery at the expense of family disunity. Co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel also casually spitball the philosophy of Kabbalah but all to little avail. In essence it's a drama about spirituality that is devoid of spirit.
Initially the focus is on little Eliza (a stony-faced Cross) who earns her place in the overachieving Naumann family with a talent for spelling. As her demanding dad, Richard Gere turns in a fine performance, capturing both the noble idealism of Professor Naumann and his ugly self-obsession. He relates Eliza's gift to Kabbalahist ideas of touching the Divine, something he has tried but failed at, and strives to achieve vicariously through her. It is a very abstract plot.
Soon the focus shifts to Mrs Miriam Naumann (Juliette Binoche) - on the verge of a nervous breakdown - and son Aaron (Max Minghella) who absconds with the Hare Krishna. Aaron's quest for spirituality feels trivial as he spends most of his time worshipping a sari-clad Kate Bosworth. But most infuriating of all, the script is determinedly vague on Miriam's psychological trauma, leaving us instead to watch her quake and babble without context. Although visually arresting in places, McGehee and Siegel offer a purely clinical dissection of the human soul, which is to miss the point completely.