If there is a novel that doesn't lend itself for cinematic adaptation, "Bee Season", written by Myla Goldberg, would seem to be the one. It doesn't help that the screen play, as written by the talented Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal, doesn't help to clarify for the casual viewer what is going on with the Naumanns of Oakland. In fact, the problem in the novel, as well as with the movie is Miriam, the distant mother who has fled reality and lives in a world of her own.
"Bee Season" co-directed by Scott McGehee and David Siegel feels empty because the somber treatment they have given to the movie. The dark cinematography of Giles Nuttgens doesn't help either, but the musical scores of Peter Nasher works well, as a whole.
One enters the Naumann world through the sensitive Eliza, a girl much older and wiser than her 11 years indicate. It is Eliza who senses all that is wrong with her family, as it appears they are falling apart in front of her, and as a little girl, she simply can't do anything at all to bring everyone together. As a way to escape the unhappy home, Eliza immerses herself in the spelling bee contests in which she excels. Not until then, does she get the attention of her father, who supports her newly found talent.
Saul, the religious studies professor, doesn't even come aware about what's wrong with his marriage until it's too late. In fact, he is a man appears to be unable to communicate with the illusive Miriam, a woman who is deeply disturbed by what happened in her own life with the tragedy of her parents death. Saul and Miriam's marriage is over, but they don't do anything to correct the situation. Miriam's problems come to a head when she is taken away and makes Saul confront the many issues that he probably never dealt with before.
Aaron, the older son, is rebelling against his own religion. He needs to experiment with other beliefs because he is at that stage of his life in which he is trying to find out who he is. That is why when he meets Chali, the young Hare Krishna follower, he decides to follow her in his quest for finding a guidance for his life.
The ensemble playing is dominated by the youngest cast member, Flora Cross, who makes a luminous Eliza. Her expressive eyes and her intelligence tells everything about her. Juliette Binoche's Miriam is a puzzle. Richard Gere does what he can with Saul and Max Minghella has some good moments as Aaron. Kate Bosworth is seen briefly as Chali.
"Bee Season" is a difficult film to sit through because it is a dark look into a family falling apart without a safety net. Also, the way the film has been promoted gives a false impression about its content.