“Bee Season’ buzzes around many themes but never lands

The film’s two directors lack a cohesive vision and thus mangle a nuanced plot

Erin Adler

There’s a tendency to romanticize what we don’t understand. And in an industry that uses all the sophistication of hand signals to evaluate final products, it’s often easier to throw a tangle of complex themes on the table and let them compete for attention than to unravel each thread.

That must have been the misguided rationale of “Bee Season’s” directors.

This” odd, befuddling film, based on the novel by Myla Goldberg, tackles a triad of themes, including spirituality, the power of the human mind and mental illness.

But the statement it’s trying to make ” something about the power of family and love, apparently ” is lost in a muddy, mystical melee.

The storyline revolves around an emotionally absent, upper-middle-class couple and their children: Saul (Richard Gere) is a religion professor, Miriam (a surprisingly dowdy-looking Juliette Binoche) does something with microscopes and musical son Aaron outshines the seemingly average daughter, Ellie.

But Ellie isn’t average. When she wins the school spelling bee, Saul finally has a reason to dote on her, bombarding her with lessons on Madonna’s favorite branch of mystic Judaism, Kabbalah. He thinks Ellie might have the gift of using words to personally connect with God.

Meanwhile, for years Miriam has been hiding what becomes full-blown psychosis, and the now-neglected Aaron turns to the Hare Krishnas for spiritual fulfillment.

Instead of complementing each other, Miriam’s fate vies with Ellie’s spelling bees for attention. Despite some beautiful camera work, each plotline seems to drag on, like a short story stretched into a novel by an overzealous author.

In this instance, too much weirdness weighs the movie down, rather than pulling viewers into the plot. Some parts are so bizarre they’re taxing to watch ” like suffering through a too-skinny Kate Bosworth dressed in a sari, chanting like a swami, at the center where Aaron explores Hinduism, or watching Ellie speak in tongues and convulse for no apparent reason.

The real revelation here is the quiet talent of newcomer Flora Cross, whose deadpan delivery as Ellie feels human, rather than mysterious.

And maybe, as the story pans from mental illness to mysticism and back again, that’s what’s missing ” the perspective, power and humanity of a young girl dealing not only with big words, but big questions, too.