Fireflies in the Garden
dir-scr Dennis Lee
with Ryan Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson, Hayden Panettiere, Cayden Boyd, Carrie-Anne Moss, Ioan Gruffudd, Shannon Lucio, George Newburn, Chase Ellison, Brooklynn Proulx
release UK 29.May.09, US tbc
08/US Senator 1h39
Fireflies in the Garden
Friends and relatives: Panettiere and Boyd

reynolds roberts dafoe

Fireflies in the Garden
by Robert Frost

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can't sustain the part.

R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Fireflies in the Garden This involving family drama doesn't really have a plot, but it cleverly traces the interrelationships in a family over several years, and really gets under the skin in the process.

Michael (Boyd then Reynolds) grew up with parents (Roberts and Dafoe) who bickered fairly constantly, which gives him plenty of fuel as a novelist later on. Their family life was peppered with dramas small and large, and he developed a close relationship with his Aunt Jane (Pannettiere then Watson) to help get through it all. Later, as his marriage to Kelly (Moss) is under strain, he's reunited with his family at a funeral where old memories are brought back to the surface.

This is one of those vaguely autobiographical films in which you constantly expect some massive skeleton to tumble out of the closet. Instead, the script carefully plots a more believable path: sure, past events are still causing fallout in the present, but they're the kinds of things we can easily identify with--namely the unhelpful ways fragile people react in difficult situations.

Writer-director Lee takes a gentle, almost impressionistic approach, maintaining a moody and emotional tone. There's just enough sharp humour to undercut the slightly over-serious approach, although it sometimes feels pretentious in the way it treats everything so heavily. And the various flashbacks get rather confusing due to the indistinct production design. What rescues it is the variety of characters brought to life by an A-list ensemble.

Reynolds just about holds the film together with a simmering, petulant performance as a young man who has never forgiven his father for being such a jerk, a characteristic Dafoe nails perfectly. Panettiere, Moss and Gruffudd are solid in oddly thin roles that seem to only exist to propel the plot, but both Roberts and Watson give the film some badly needed warmth.

All of them nicely catch the family's serious dysfunction, which ricochets from concern to camaraderie to pure bile. This cyclical structure gets a bit wearying as the film progresses through episodes that are dark, kind, nasty, comforting, painful. It's not an easy film to like, especially as it centres on feelings and interaction rather than any sense of forward-moving narrative. But it's still worth a look.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality, some violence 10.Mar.09

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Fireflies in the Garden Still waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2009 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall