Ryan Reynolds, Julia Roberts Trapped in Dull ‘Fireflies in the Garden’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 1.0/5.0
Rating: 1.0/5.0

CHICAGO – It’s always risky for a screenwriter to craft a film about a family of writers in that when the result is a script so generically awful as that for “Fireflies in the Garden” it’s going to stick out even more prominently. After sitting on the shelf for years (it played festivals in 2008 and was supposed to be released that year) and reportedly undergoing some reshoots, this stale drama is finally getting a limited release and will prove just how limited it is to the poor saps who pay to see it.

The most interesting thing about “Fireflies in the Garden” may be how it proves, yet again, that talented actors and actresses can still get sucked into awful projects despite their well-known abilities. What on Earth did Willem Dafoe and Emily Watson see in this mess? They’re such talented performers that one would assume they should know better by now. Julia Roberts should as well. Even Ryan Reynolds, who has had a year of bad career decisions (“Green Lantern,” “The Change-Up”) is a likable actor in the right material and proved with last year’s “Buried” that he can deliver an engaging performance. Not one member of the talented ensemble in “Fireflies in the Garden” ever reveals what they could have seen in this clichéd mess. Maybe they thought it would be the next “Great Santini” or “Prince of Tides.” Maybe they didn’t actually read the script.

Fireflies in the Garden
Fireflies in the Garden
Photo credit: Universal

Michael (Ryan Reynolds) had a crappy childhood. His father Charles (Willem Dafoe) was a total prick, the kind of guy who makes his kid hold paint cans at arm’s length to learn a lesson; the kind of guy who punishes his son by making him walk home in the rain; the kind of guy who cheated on his lovely wife Lisa (Julia Roberts). As the film opens, writer Michael is coming home to a family reunion with some emotional baggage. A horrendous accident involving Michael’s cousin leads to Lisa’s death and the aforementioned baggage gets a whole lot heavier. Much of the film takes place in flashback, as we learn about Michael’s upbringing and his friendship with his mother’s younger sister (Hayden Panettiere in flashback, Emily Watson in present day…wrap your brain around that), who helped him deal with his abusive patriarch.

“Fireflies in the Garden” is one of the longest 88-minute movies that I’ve ever seen. To say it drags would be a massive understatement. It has zero rising action and builds to nothing but a fabricated climax involving the manipulation of a missing child. We never get emotionally involved with any of these characters in the slightest. Rarely has a drama felt more distant and less genuine. I actually longed for some melodrama or some pulpy guilty pleasure just to alleviate the boredom.

Fireflies in the Garden
Fireflies in the Garden
Photo credit: Universal

But the cast has to be good, right? I guess. I appreciate Reynolds trying to branch out and do something more dramatic but his character is such an enigma that he’s ineffective. Watching a relatively short film about a man coming to terms with his entire childhood and his relationship with his parents requires a lot of internal monologue. It’s the kind of thing that works significantly better in fiction than film because we don’t have time to get into Michael’s head. And so Reynolds is too often required to play “thinking” or “contemplating” and we can’t exactly do that along with him. Watson is wasted in too small of a role and Roberts also has a relatively small part (but is effective in it). As for Dafoe, I love the man, but he too fails to find the heart of this complex character.

When an entire ensemble seems as lost as that of “Fireflies in the Garden,” blame must be laid at the feet of writer/director Dennis Lee. He just never finds what would make this story interesting to an audience. Not only have we seen it before, but we’ve seen it in a significantly more interesting way. It’s not as much a problem that Lee takes the path so-often taken in “Fireflies in the Garden” as it is that he does so in such a straightforward, boring manner.

“Fireflies in the Garden” stars Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Julia Roberts, Emily Watson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hayden Panettiere, and Ioan Gruffudd. It was written and directed by Dennis Lee. It was released on October 14th, 2011.

HollywoodChicago.com content director Brian Tallerico

By BRIAN TALLERICO
Content Director
HollywoodChicago.com
brian@hollywoodchicago.com

marihersy's picture

Fireflies in the Garden

BUT I THINK THAT’S FILMS LOOK BAD, IF good vibes and wanted to make a good film, it only takes REDO THE SCRIPT, A MAJOR CONCERN FOR ACTORS ACTING IN THE SAME TO CALL THE ATTENTION OF THE PUBLIC, AND READY A GOOD FILM IN PRESENTATION

Savvy Shopper's picture

This was a good movie if you

This was a good movie if you like movies about mental/verbal abuse. I’m not sure that this was a story worth telling. A shame that such a poor film was well acted and directed.

Manny be down's picture

Fireflies in the Garden

Well I can see why they kept this movie on ice. I didn’t care for it

manny world's picture

Fireflies should stay off the air

They had to release this? What a bummer.

ziggy one of the best's picture

Fireflies

I hate it so much I wood set on fire

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