Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5. USA, 2005. Bee Season Productions Inc., Fox Searchlight Pictures, Bona Fide Productions, i5 Films, Epsilon Motion Pictures, Fox Searchlab, Major Studio Partners, Merkel Verwaltungsgesellschaft Filmproduktions, Regency Enterprises. Screenplay by Naomi Foner, based on the novel by Myla Goldberg. Cinematography by Giles Nuttgens. Produced by Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa. Music by Peter Nashel. Production Design by Kelly McGehee. Costume Design by Mary Malin. Film Editing by Lauren Zuckerman. Toronto International Film Festival 2005.
A little girl’s spiritual connection to letters behooves her when she participates in her school’s spelling bee contest, wins it, and moves up the various rungs of success until trying for the national championship. It’s a great distraction from home life, where workaholic eastern philosophy professor dad (Richard Gere), mentally fractured mom (Juliette Binoche) and religious fad-seeking brother (Max Minghella) are all doing their best to avoid each other. Scott McGehee and David Siegel, who previously did such a great job of dissecting family dysfunction within the framework of the thriller genre in The Deep End, fail their audience completely with this uninvolving drama whose characters are never for a moment sympathetic. Gere never pulls off his role’s deeper thoughts in search of Kabbalistic connection, while Binoche is not given ample room to fully explore the character she’s more deeply connected to. What really kills it, though, is an infuriatingly cryptic performance by young Flora Cross as the lead character, whose constant opium-induced stare and dull dialogue delivery make her, at times, genuinely annoying. Granted this is also because of a screenplay that assumes her uniqueness without demonstrating it.