Fireflies in the Garden is a dysfunctional film about a dysfunctional family. The main problem is that the ideas and themes scattered throughout the story are never fully thought out and in the end all that’s left is a fairly cut and paste story about love and loss that never hits the emotional levels with its audience that a film like this has to hit in order for it to work.
The story takes place in both the past and present, interweaving both stories throughout, though when it does swap it’s never really doing it for any particular rhyme or reason. It’s not as though something in the present triggers a memory of something in the past; it’s more like something happens in the present, and then we’re shown another moment from the past that shows how this family has issues.
The film’s protagonist is Michael Taylor, who is played by as an adult by Ryan Reynolds in the present and by Cayden Boyd as a child. In the past storyline, Michael is constantly belittled and tormented by his emotionally abusive father, Charles (William Dafoe), who seems to be the cause of most of the family issues.
Luckily, Michael has his mother, Lisa (Julia Roberts), who loves him and protects him as much as she can. There’s also Michael’s Aunt Jane (played by Emily Watson in the present story, and Hayden Panettiere in the past) who – in the past storyline – visits with Michael’s family for the summer. It should be pointed out that Jane is only a few years older than Michael, and it’s a rather awkward story the two share due to a few scenes that may give the viewer the wrong implication.
At one point, Michael has to give Jane a list of rules that his father makes them abide by. He knocks on her door to give it to her, and she answers in a tight tank top and her underwear. Being a young boy, he gets caught looking at her chest, and Jane plays off this, partially brushing against him before closing the door in his face.
While it’s obvious she’s just teasing him, there’s the small implication here that something may happen. It may be the smallest of implications, but if it makes the viewer’s mind go in that direction at all, it should later be clarified that nothing happened. Instead, writer/director Dennis Lee only muddies the water by having present day Jane and Michael have a discussion about Michael’s latest book (as he is now an author) and pleads with him not to publish it. Her reasoning? That everyone will find out, and it will kill his father.
While I’m someone who prefers to have things implied instead of having characters explain every single thing they’re doing and why, situations like this could really use a bit more clarification. Simply stating at some point that Jane had an abortion (which is why she stayed with them that summer, and which is what she’s actually afraid that everyone will find out) and that all the anger and resentment Michael directs at his father in the book is actually what would kill him would help make their story come across better, and leave no room for people to get the wrong idea.
The above example is the problem with the entire movie: it’s just not clear in what it’s trying to say. There are plenty of stories going on within this family, and yet, Lee jumps all over the place instead of simply focusing on the broken relationship between Michael and his father, and the tragedy that brings the family back together.
With the story being as muddled as it is, the acting is the only thing that actually makes the film watchable. Reynolds does solid work here, as his delivery is as funny and believable as ever. Dafoe is also great, really coming off as someone you want to see get his for all the pain he’s inflicted on his family, which is how the character needed to come across. Roberts is also great, though her role is minor in comparison.
The supporting cast is really strong as well, with Watson and Panettiere doing good work as past and present Jane, though Panettiere’s role may even be smaller than Roberts. Carrie-Anne Moss also has a small role, as does Ioan Gruffudd and George Newbern, all three of which are good in their own right, even if only Gruffudd’s character has any true value to the story.
Fireflies in the Garden is a movie that has lots of recognizable stars on the cover of the Blu-ray, and that’s its selling point. How can a movie that got this many big names to sign on be bad? I can’t answer that question, but someone must have called in a lot of favours. There are moments where it’s noticeable that this could have been a solid enough story to at least have the viewer make a small emotional connection; however, poor storytelling and pacing leave it looking like an idea that was never fully conceived.
The audio and visual elements of Fireflies in the Garden are clean and clear, and overall they both work – unlike the film itself. There are no major complaints to be had in either department, though with a film like this there’s no need to go above and beyond.
There are no extras on the disc, which is a shame, as I would have liked to have seen what the actors thought about the film, and get some insight as to why they all chose to do the project.
Fireflies in the Garden is a film that will catch people’s eyes do to the fact that some big stars are involved. Try not to be fooled, as this is an average made-for-TV movie with Hollywood stars at best, and a complete wreck that’s saved only by the actors involved at worst.
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents Fireflies in the Garden. Written and Directed by: Dennis Lee. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hayden Panettiere, Ioan Gruffudd, Julia Roberts. Running time: 99 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: Feb. 21, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Hayden Panettiere, Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe