Back in the Heartland, Writer Confronts His Past and Present in Fireflies in the Garden

Familial dysfunction takes glib, syrupy form in Fireflies in the Garden, a flashbacky saga of past discord and present-day reconciliation that should have remained on the shelf it has been occupying since its 2008 Berlin International Film Festival premiere. Dennis Lee’s semiautobiographical—yet doggedly inauthentic—story concerns the reluctant return of author Michael (Ryan Reynolds) to his Midwestern hometown for a reunion that transforms into a funeral once his angelically suffering mother (Julia Roberts) is killed in a car accident. That leaves dour Michael to reconnect with his protective aunt (Emily Watson) and resume sparring with his English professor father (Willem Dafoe), who’s the same stereotypical tyrant he was years earlier, as seen in gracelessly inserted sequences of adolescent Michael (Cayden Boyd) rebelling against his domineering daddy by, among other things, trying to taking credit for penning Robert Frost’s titular poem. Despite an A-list roster, the performances are universally one-note, a fact largely attributable to a script overflowing with blunt dialogue and heavy-handed symbolism. Self-conscious framing and overly dramatic lighting prove further affectations, though even more off-putting is the material’s depiction—through Michael and his young cousins fishing with firecrackers and whacking fireflies with tennis rackets—of cross-generational bonding via animal cruelty.

 
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