Dirs. Scott McGehee, David Siegel. 2005. PG-13. 104mins. Richard Gere, Juliette Binoche, Flora Cross, Max Minghella.
McGehee and Siegel's follow-up to their 2001 indie hit The Deep End is another compelling study of family dysfunction. Outwardly, the Naumanns are the picture of middle-class contentment: Dad Saul (Gere) teaches religion at Berkeley, wife Miriam (Binoche) is a scientist and loving mom to their handsome offspring Aaron (Minghella) and Eliza (Cross). But Saul is fickle; always needing a platform for his intellectual displays, he focuses his attention on Eliza after she shows great prowess at spelling bees. He sees her as an acolyte for his study of Kabbalah, believing that, with her mystical affinity for letters, she can catch God's ear. Miriam and Aaron respond in ways that threaten to rip their family apart.
Gere sounds all the right notes as a charismatic narcissist. Binoche captures the fragility of her wounded character, and newcomers Minghella and Cross bring the requisite gravitas. In adapting Myla Goldberg's novel, screenwriter Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal expertly juggles metaphors: Miriam's kaleidoscope conveys her fractured view of reality, in contrast to Eliza's Kabbalistic mission of "Tikkun Olam"—healing the fragmented world. But in the end, the film's chief weakness is the same as the book's; we're asked to believe Eliza has learned how to fix her family, when what she's really learned is how to be the perfect codependent.—Andrea Gronvall