Fireflies in the Garden

24 Nov

Title: Fireflies in the Garden
Year: 2011
Director: Dennis Lee
Writer: Dennis Lee
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson, Julia Roberts, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hayden Panettiere, Ioan Gruffudd, Cayden Boyd
MPAA Rating: R, language and some sexual content
Runtime: 98 min
Major Awards: –
IMDb Rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 21%

One look at the cast listing for Fireflies in the Garden and you can’t help but be a bit impressed and get your hopes up for the movie, Willem Dafoe, Julia Roberts and Emily Watson headline the supporting cast and the lead role is in the hands of Ryan Reynolds. Now, granted, Mr. Reynolds isn’t exactly a great actor, and is having a disappointing 2011 for me, with his foray into superhero status with the Green Lantern failing to impress (I gave it a C+) and his R-rated comedy with Jason Bateman, The Change-Up, being even worse (a C grade from me). But the guy can also be damn good as we saw in last year’s superb Buried (I gave that one an A-) or at the very least be super charming and likable, as evidenced in Definitely, Maybe. Thing is, I looked at this cast and I couldn’t help but get excited, no matter how much the jury is still out on Mr. Reynolds for me, I’m just too big a Julia Roberts fanboy not to get giddy when reading her name on a poster.

But then you get to the other side of the story surrounding this film and you started expecting the worst just as the cast listing was making you hope for the best. That part of the story being the one that shows you that it actually premiered in the 2008 Berlin International Film Festival. Yes, you read that right, 2008.  99% of the time when films are delayed over three years it means they weren’t very good to start with, so I had to head into this one with a grain of salt, as it apparently had only been released on theaters after a very big push by the lovely Ms. Roberts to get this film to be seen. And, I’m pained to say, this one was better off not seeing the light of day, actually. It’s not a horrible film, not by any means, and the cast is rock solid, but even at ninety-eight minutes this one feels like it just drags along, a rather boring melodrama that not even those big names could turn into something of substance.

It’s just your kind of typical melodrama that spans three different generations and veers from scenes set in the past and those set in the present, it offers nothing worth noting, which is just a huge pity when you have a cast like the one writer-director Dennis Lee had to work with here. Yesterday I saw a film, Texas Killing Fields, a crime thriller that was just a rehash of so many things we have seen in a lot of films just like it, which is why, no matter how good its cast was, I couldn’t really get myself behind it. A similar thing happened to me with Fireflies in the Garden, the film offers a lot of familiar themes about family and coming to terms with your parents, and it treads across them using a lot of characters and situations we have seen in many films before, so there’s really nothing new here to really get you engaged.

Mr. Reynolds’ character here, Michael, is a successful novelist who comes home after quite some time to celebrate his mother’s graduation from college, but the reunion is struck by tragedy as she dies in a car accident just as he arrives. So now you have the gathered family grieving over the loss of the mother, Ms. Roberts’ character, while at the same trying to learn about what Michael has been up to all these years.

The reason why Michael hasn’t been as present, it becomes quite obvious, is his domineering father, played by Willem Dafoe, the type of dad we have seen in a lot of films, one who expected too much of his son as a kid and was incredibly hard on him, and that even as a grown-up, and a successful one at that, still treats him with a horrible kind of condescension, when he’s really just showing an insecurity enabled by his son achieving things he wanted to achieve himself. It comes as no surprise that Michael has wanted to stay away from him, nor that his latest novel chronicles his unhappy childhood and seems to be a lash against his father.

These are all capable actors gathered here to tell the story of this dysfunctional family, but the story is just so typical that I couldn’t really get behind it, and I didn’t live the to-and-fro between the past and present. I mean, Ms. Roberts as the loving mom and Mr. Dafoe as the horrible dad are good actors, but together they’re not really well matched at all and their dynamic suffers because of that, not to mention that some of lines of dialogue Mr. Dafoe has to say as the bad father can seem laughable at times.

These may be good actors, but the film is just so dull (except for those couple of raging outbursts courtesy of the great Ms. Watson) and kind of corny, too, as it’s shot (by Ms. Roberts’ husband, Danny Moder) in a way that makes it seem just like a sappy made-for-TV movie. Plus, the fact that we have seen all of these elements before makes the film drag along, and those moments of “discovery” aren’t that at all, which in turns makes its ending that suggests forgiveness feel absolutely unearned. Not to mention that I just couldn’t believe the fact that they wanted to make it seem as though Ryan Reynolds could ever be the son of Julia Roberts.

Grade: C+

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