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Bee Season Review

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University lecturer Saul (Gere) strives for religious ecstasy through Kabbalah — a meditative Jewish mysticism — while his marriage collapses unnoticed. Perhaps his daughter, now excelling in spelling bees, can make more of her life than he feels he has?

★★★★★

Based on Myla Goldberg’s novel (with obligatory Hollywood happy-ending tweak), Bee Season is a tortuous collapsing-family drama bathed in the half-baked glow of West Coast spirituality. So, quelle surprise, Richard ‘Dalai’ Gere latched on to this rare Tinseltown foray into matters of the soul, to play a patriarch so preoccupied he doesn’t notice his family imploding. As Gere’s Saul ushers his daughter Eliza (Flora Cross) into a world of 13th century Jewish mysticism, his wife (Juliette Binoche) is a closet kleptomaniac, and his son (Max Minghella) is being lured by an only-in-a-movie stunning Hare Krishna babe.

The cast does just fine, especially newcomer Cross, and there’s some decent use of CGI to illustrate the workings of her mind. But the film’s excessively worthy in tone, and there’s simply too much to cram in. The spiralling strands — mum’s breakdown, son’s search for identity, daughter’s spelling bees, daddy’s hunt for religious meaning — occasionally dovetail but ultimately flop to the floor, much like the estranged family members, without any meaningful connection. And once Eliza achieves her enlightenment, you feel you are watching a Kabbalah recruitment video.

Gloopy family drama meets Hollywood cod-spirituality in a movie that’s defeated by its over-ambitious scope.