When I watched previews of Bee Season, I was eager to see what looked to be an intriguing family-drama version of 2003's documentary hit Spellbound. A flick that explores not just the study habits of champion spellers, but also the ripple-effect family dynamics when one young member excels in such an intellectual arena and on a national level. Well, after sitting through the real Bee Season, I'd still like to see that movie. Because Spellbound this wasn't—unless you mean the more traditional, spiritualistic meaning of the word. In other words, how do you spell misleading?

Saul Naumann (Richard Gere) helps his daughter Eliza study for the spelling bee

Saul Naumann (Richard Gere) helps his daughter Eliza study for the spelling bee

Actually, the film (based loosely on the best-selling novel of the same name by Myla Goldberg) starts somewhat as expected. There's a young California family busy with cello practice, dad's job as a prof, mom's job as a scientist, and the youngest daughter, Eliza (Flora Cross), taking it all in with her intriguing slate-blue eyes. Eliza appears to be the only non-overachiever in the bunch, until she wins a spelling bee at her school—aided by her mysterious ability to literally picture the letters of each word. The reticent girl is so unused to the spotlight that she slips the letter alerting her parents to her achievement under the study door of her father, Saul (Richard Gere), a busy and important man. He misses it in the academic bustle of papers and books, and instead brother Aaron (Max Minghella) takes Eliza to the district spelling bee, where she wins again. Aaron shares her good fortune with the family, and suddenly there's a new star in town. No longer are Aaron and Dad practicing stringed instruments in his study; now it's Eliza being invited into this holy of holies to learn about the magic of words.

Eliza and her mom (Juliette Binoche) share a tender moment

Eliza and her mom (Juliette Binoche) share a tender moment

It's here that Eliza's dad begins ...

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Directed By
Scott McGehee, David Siegel
Run Time
1 hour 44 minutes
Cast
Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Cross, Max Minghella
Theatre Release
November 23, 2005
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