A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this drama focuses on a family's gradual, difficult breakdown. It includes several tense family scenes, one harsh argument between father and son (yelling and using the f-word), and the revelation of the mother's mental illness (she's having flashbacks to the harrowing sight of her parents' fatal car crash, and stealing objects from houses she can reach by car and by foot). A young spelling prodigy comes to see not only how words are spelled, but also how to forgive and help her fragile family.
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What's the story?
Based on Maya Goldberg's 2000 novel, BEE SEASON focuses on the Naumanns, a well-meaning, intellectual, dysfunctional family. The Naumann's dysfunctions provide a ground for exploring the relationship between language and experience, or, put another way, the dire consequences of literalizing desire. Dad Saul (Richard Gere) is a Kabbalist professor who puts his energies into sixth grade spelling prodigy Eliza (Flora Cross) and convinces himself that she might become "someone who can really connect to God." Saul neglects his son Aaron (Max Minghella), who looks elsewhere for "meaning" and finds it in Hari Krishna devotee Chali (Kate Bosworth). The most tragic Naumann is mom Miriam (Juliette Binoche), who harbors a past trauma. She too feels neglected by Saul and falls increasingly into a form of literalization that has, apparently, plagued her for years. Her visions reveal the fragmented way by which she sees the world, what the camera shows through the kaleidoscope she gives Eliza. Slowly, she comes undone, frightening her children.
Is it any good?
Suffused with loss and longing, Bee Season is often, in single scenes, delicate and moving. This makes its lapses into inelegance almost more intriguing as they clash with the brief close-ups of Eliza's shallow breaths and closed eyes as she goes into trances during spelling bee competitions. Yet the movie depends too much on contrivances, stereotypes, and very slow-on-the-uptake parents and partners. All of which leaves you feeling a step ahead of the narrative, not an ideal position when contemplating spiritual "truths."
As Eliza wins trophies and accolades, she also comes to understand -- and forgive -- her parents' flaws. The movie's themes and images are evocative and sometimes cryptic, raising spiritual and emotional questions, but it tangles up the theme of literalism with plot in ways that are sometimes clunkier than they are poignant or shrewd.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the increasing distances among the family members. How might Saul pay closer attention to Miriam's needs, even as he pursues his own desire for a profound spiritual experience? How do the various searches for spiritual "connection" parallel one another?
- In theaters: November 11, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: April 4, 2006
- Cast: Juliette Binoche, Kate Bosworth, Richard Gere
- Directors: David Siegel, Scott McGehee
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, a scene of sensuality, and brief strong language.
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