Fireflies in the Garden
Fireflies in the Garden
Review By: Sean Stroub
Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hayden Panettiere, and Julia Roberts all in one film sounds pretty good, right? Wrong. Most of you have probably never even heard of Fireflies in the Garden, a drama about a highly dysfunctional family, and there are plenty of reasons why. It premiered at the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival, but didn’t get released in the U.S. until this past October and is now coming out on DVD. It took years to reach an audience (granted, a very small one) beyond the festival, but to be honest, it never should have made it anywhere. This will end up being one of those movies you see on these actors’ filmographies and go, “Huh, what’s that?”
The film begins with a flashback in which Willem Dafoe’s character, Charles Taylor, is flipping out at his son Michael (at a young age, played by ) while driving with his wife, Lisa (Julia Roberts) in the front seat. Immediately, we bear witness to an extremely harsh father-son relationship. When I first saw that Willem Dafoe would be playing a father in a dramatic role I thought, “Wow, good for him. For once he’s not a psychotic villain.” Of course I was proven wrong right at the start. But I mean, that is what he does best.
In the present day, we see Michael all grown up played by Ryan Reynolds and learn that he is a successful author. He’s on his way to a family reunion in honor of his mother’s college graduation, taking place decades after leaving school to raise her children. After we meet the adult Michael, we see Charles and Lisa on their way to Lisa’s much younger sister Jane’s house. This character also takes part in the flashbacks and is played by Hayden Panettiere as a child and Emily Watson as an adult. Then, Jane’s son, Christopher (Chase Ellison) runs carelessly out into the street to retrieve a baseball, causing Charles to swerve off the road and crash into a tree. This accident results in Lisa’s death. Now this family has to deal with the tragedy as well as each other even though almost everybody hates one another. Jane doesn’t trust Michael, Michael and Charles are at each other’s throats, the children are cursing, Christopher blames himself for the accident, and everyone is just uncomfortable, including the audience.
Fireflies doesn’t follow the normal story arc like rising action, climax, and all that, but instead stays consistently dull for almost the full hour and a half running time. Charles snaps at Michael in both the past and the present, but it’s never very interesting except for one brief moment. My eyes widened when young Michael tackled his father to the ground. Right after it happened, however, I was back to basically falling asleep. There are more scenes involving them fighting afterwards, but
The title comes from Robert Frost’s poem of the same name, which comes up in one scene involving young Michael reading it to Charles’ colleagues. He was supposed to come up with an original poem though so Charles is extremely embarrassed and forces Michael to hold his arms out with paint cans in each hand for quite some time. Later on, he can’t even bring a fork to his mouth to eat dinner. We get it. Poor Michael.
Carrie-Anne Moss also shows up as Michael’s ex-wife and Ioan Gruffudd plays the professor that Lisa had an affair with and would have left Charles for after her graduation. Why she never left before shocks me, although one flashback reveals that she tried to and that’s also the scene in which Michael picks a fight with his father. Anyway, there are a ton of celebrities in this movie. It’s not like a Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve movie where everyone is in it for the paycheck, but it’s still not good. It’s just so boring and goes absolutely nowhere. The tagline is “For one family, a chance to start again” and the ending that involves the Taylors watching home movies alludes to this possibility. However, in no way did anyone actually solve any issues or ongoing problems. They may have been realizing that they’ve actually had good times before, but that doesn’t mean much after experiencing all of the truly horrible things that have happened too.
As for special features, this DVD only has one and that’s the “making of” content entitled “A Flash of Life.” In it, you’ll learn that the writer and director Dennis Lee lost his mother the same way as these characters. The actors, who did a good job for the most part, also talk about why they were attracted to this movie. If you want answers after sitting through this beyond boring film, there you go. They may have their reasons and although this cast includes some of my favorite actors, especially Ryan Reynolds, nothing can save this bland movie. At the end, Michael burns his manuscript with the same title as Frost’s poem (stealing from it again). Instead, I think Lee should’ve burned his script.