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Fireflies in the Garden

2008 | R | 2.39:1

Fireflies in the Garden


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Theatrical release date

 14 October, 2011
 29 May, 2009

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Fireflies in the Garden


Fireflies in the Garden Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 13, 2011

“Fireflies in the Garden” has endured a rough ride to a U.S. theatrical liberation. Shot over four years ago, the domestic drama has seen its fair share of missed released dates and wary studios, though I’m not exactly sure why. Although far from perfect, the feature remains an honestly felt motion picture about the complexities of behavior and the wrenching pull of regret, using games of secrets and revelations to manipulate the characters into positions of remembrance. It doesn’t add up to much, but it seems writer/director Dennis Lee never intended it to, embracing the undeclared bonds of life, permitting viewers to study relationships and true levels of hostility.

A popular writer dealing with immense personal issues, Michael Taylor (Ryan Reynolds) has returned to his childhood home to celebrate his mother Lisa’s (Julia Roberts) graduation. Instead of merriment, the day turns tragic when Lisa is killed in a car accident involving her nephew, Christopher (Chase Ellison). Now without the heart of the family, Michael is forced to deal directly with his domineering father Charles (Willem Dafoe), sympathetic Aunt Jane (Emily Watson), sister Ryne (Shannon Lucio), and ex-wife Kelly (Carrie-Anne Moss). Reflecting on his troubled childhood and peculiar relationship with Jane (the pair is played in flashbacks by Cayden Boyd and Hayden Panettiere), Michael’s burns with difficult memories, striving to make sense of Charles’s aggressive demeanor and his mother’s infinite kindness in the face of total contempt. Accepting a more mature role in the grieving process, Michael looks to soothe Christopher’s pain, also facing his latest manuscript, a book containing family secrets that unsettles Jane.

Inspired by the Robert Frost poem, “Fireflies in the Garden” won’t win any awards for originality, covering familiar ground laid out in many disgruntled family sagas, displaying angelic mothers, anxious siblings, and abusive fathers. Lee shows interest in battling the clichés, taking a slightly crooked look at the inner turmoil of the characters, working to understand these personalities on an intimate scale. It’s a story of secrets but never hits too hard on the obvious, going for gradual revelations instead of repeated shocks. Lee doesn’t explain a whole lot here, preferring to let his audience connect the pieces in a few of the subplots, including an odd sexual tension between young Michael and Jane. With only a few years separating them and a summer spent sharing a living space, the pair connects tenderly but never explicitly, creating a question of intimacy that’s never directly confronted, communicated through odd touches and pauses.

There’s a feel of restraint to “Fireflies” that’s stimulating, electing to arrange small puzzles instead of storming around in tears, screaming at the heavens. Michael is kept a reserved fellow with an enormous burden of guilt and confusion, attempting to process the disdain his father has always showed him and the unnecessary patience his mother retained. Funneling his feelings into the manuscript, Michael is at the brink of torching his life, yet this reunion with estranged loved ones forces him to confront such powerful discontent, finding a cycle of despondency carrying over to boy who believes he killed his beloved aunt. Lee refuses neat dramatic lines, creating plausible unrest, helped in part by Reynolds’s gentle, reflective performance, offering tortured looks more powerful than any dialogue.

Dafoe’s growling father routine is unforgivably broad and Kelly isn’t nearly the critical character she appears to have been at one point in the script, yet I found myself somewhat moved by this picture, even with its formulaic ways. Lee finds a soul to the piece that’s worth a look, and the enigmatic aspects of the story are compelling, even when the filmmaker refuses to provide hard answers to the questions raised. It’s a family drama featuring occasional tragedy, with gently arranged conflicts and confessions from Lee, relying on his skilled cast to communicate the unspoken frustrations coming to a boil once the most beloved member of the family has passed away.

Those who naturally gravitate to this syrupy genre shouldn’t be disappointed, as “Fireflies in the Garden” is consistent with tender moments and agonized recollections, spread across a tempestuous family dynamic. Lee doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but he finds a few pleasing angles to explore, keeping the feature as human as possible.

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Julia Roberts, Hayden Panettiere
Director: Dennis Lee

» See full cast & crew

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Fireflies in the Garden (2008) 0 Apr 14, 2010

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