Fantastical Images, Credible Story-Telling
|Director:||Scott McGehee and David Siegel,|
|Starring:||Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, and Kate Bosworth|
perhaps hearing Richard Gere’s sensitive voice on NPR this morning deepened the need to feel sincere about “Bee Season.” Gere was reading from the Dali Lama’s latest book in which Gere apparently does the audio book version. No matter what the cynics say, his voice coming through my old popping car speakers was nice and pleasant with something sincere lurking underneath.
In “Bee Season,” Gere’s often skewered real life persona blends well with the character he inhabits. One might say that his off screen identity gives his on screen one credibility and buoyance. In this film, Gere plays Saul Naumann, a Jewish religion scholar who is also a super Dad. His wife, played by Juliette Binoche, is a convert from Catholicism to Judaism and may be disturbed mentally, or maybe she has found the ear of God. You see, “Bee Season” isn’t the movie you might expect. This is an earnest story about finding the ear of God through words, principally using the National Spelling Bee. Based on the best selling novel of the same name, it’s a movie that will confound some audiences and enchant others. I was enchanted.
The Story: Saul teaches religion in college and assumes that his life is perfect. And why shouldn’t it be? He has a wonderful family (2 kids and a beautiful wife), an impressive home, a great job, and respect in the intellectual community. On the surface everything is in place, and he maintains a proper schedule which facilitates order and stability in his life. But what’s underneath defies his regimen. Unknown to him, Saul’s daughter, Eliza (Flora Cross), exhibits an almost magical ability to spell and, at age 11, qualifies for the National Spelling Bee competition. Meanwhile Aaron (Max Minghella), Saul’s older son, goes on a personal religious journey becoming charmed genuinely with Chali (Kate Bosworth) an alluring Hari Krishna. And Saul’s wife has a secret hidden and under lock and key requiring a monthly rental payment.
None the chaos that ensues when the underneath bubbles to the surface is Saul’s fault. After all, he’s the father who cooks a delicious and nutritious meal for his family each night. After all, he knows that his family shares his beliefs and acuity; therefore, experimentation will not leave a permanent stain. But how Saul copes with loss of control is telling and disturbing. The man who has it all together with a firm grip on the steering wheel must let go and observe the events without guiding them.
“Bee Season” contains fantastical imagery and the suggestion that something supernatural may be afoot. But the handsome special effects employed are really just a plot device to tell the story of a family finding itself. Children question their parents. Spouses keep secrets from each other. Everyone requires therapy. And young people grow up. They become someone different, perhaps, someone unexpected.
I didn’t really like “The Weatherman” and respected the art of “Jarhead” without being entertained. “Bee Season,” released on the heels of those films, is stronger entertainment because of its use of supernatural elements to essentially tell the melancholy tale of a family struggling with itself. Sometimes telling a straight story that shows us the awful world we live in proves to be unengaging (“Jarhead” is a fantastic memoir but not really a fantastic movie; “The Weatherman” hit us below the belt and never resonated).
“Bee Season” sneaks up on you starting as a family drama and tells that story in the guise of a religious thriller. But above all it’s Gere’s centerpiece performance as the well-meaning patriarch that surprised me. Like in “Unfaithful,” his character is the unwitting one drawn into circumstances he cannot control. But losing control is always more interesting than the blandness of order.