19 December 2007

Filmbook: Bee Season (2005)

Instead of fighting my urge to write about movies more than once in a great while, I'm going to expend one post a week writing about a literary adaptation. Which is better, the book or the movie? Do you need to have read the book? Should Hollywood have kept its hands to itself? Find out with "Filmbook."

It's not surprising that Myla Goldberg's BEE SEASON became a best-seller. The story of a girl who discovers a special talent, and the effect it has on her family when she does is occasionally bizarre but not off-putting, and the character of Eliza, the daughter of a cantor and a lawyer, very compelling. It's not one of my favorite books, but I definitely enjoyed reading it and was puzzled when a movie adaptation starring Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche tanked at the box office.

Having seen the movie, I understand why people who saw the book and then the movie recommended against it. In a novel where the main characters, Eliza and her family, are very much interior people who conceal so much from each other, that becomes very hard to characterize on film. Eliza's Spelling Bee training is depicted from her point of view with some very pretty and odd special effects, but other tricks the filmmaker uses to get inside characters' heads are very heavy-handed and, without the time to properly develop them, come off as rushed. Eliza's parents especially, who are given a lot of ink in the book, seem in the movie like two very pretty people in a very pretty house who occasionally stare off into the deep distance. (At least Juliette Binoche looks authentically tortured when she does this; Richard Gere looks like he's always holding back a beatific, irritating smile.) Also, the filmmakers make some major changes to the ending of the book -- not Hollywood changes, but ones that don't really make sense in context.

Filmbook verdict: Read the book, don't see the movie.

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