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A family with an abusive father, a sensitive son, and a mother out of her depth: we see them when Michael is about 12 and when he's in his 30's, a writer of romance novels, going home for his mother and sister's college graduations. We go back and forth between the two periods: when Michael is a boy, the pressure builds until a break is threatened and there's a fight; during his trip home, there's an unexpected death, and renewed relationships between father and son, Michael and his aunt, and Michael and his aunt's young children. Michael's estranged wife joins them for the funeral. Written by
Exploring the Sludge of a Dysfunctional Midwestern Family
FIREFLIES IN THE GARDEN is a perplexing movie. The story seems as though someone threw the script up in the air with the fireflies in the garden (a quite beautiful moment in the film that suggest the night gardens of John Singer Sergent's 'Carnation Lily, Lily Rose'), shot it full of holes and then reassembled it the next groggy morning. Pieces are simply missing: we are informed that the original version is 122 minutes while this version is only 89 minutes and it is likely that in the missing 33 minutes many of the unresolved and very confusing elements of time and place and character development and perplexing moments existed. Writer/Director Dennis Lee obviously had a fine story to share and a brilliant cast to offer it, but so much of it is missing that we are left frustrated.
Successful Romance novelist Michael Taylor (Ryan Reynolds) has completed his latest novel, a work of serious memoir literature in which he has recounted his childhood in an attempt to free himself from the influence of his demonic father, English professor Charles Taylor (William Dafoe) who seriously abused Michael as a child and for whom he holds little emotion but disdain. Michael has returned home for the college graduation of his sister Ryne (Shannon Lucio) as well as his mother's - Lisa (Julia Roberts) - deferred graduation. But the celebration is altered by an accident: Charles swerved to not hit his nephew Christopher (Chase Ellison), hit a pole resulting in a crash that killed Lisa and injured Charles and leaves Christopher with a dark cloud of guilt that he caused the trauma.
We gradually meet the family: Lisa's sister Jane (Emily Watson) is the mother of Christopher and his little sister and has always been the closest friend of Michael when they were children (as children, Michael is portrayed by Cayden Boyd and Jane by Hayden Panettiere ), At Lisa's funeral Michael's 'ex-wife', AA reformed Kelly (Carrie-Anne Moss) shows up to add to Michael's angst. From here the film jumps back and forth between the childhood of Michael and Jane and the suffering and abuse Michael endured at the hands of his grotesquely diabolical father and the secrets of that failed family life are gradually exposed and the traumatic present. In cleaning out Lisa's things Michael discovers some information that alters his view of his past, and those discoveries lead to a change in the way Michael views his father and Jane's children and most significantly the demons that have burdened him through his life.
In addition to the fine work by Reynolds, Watson, Dafoe, Roberts, and all the other cast members, there is an important cameo for Ioan Gruffudd that opens the murk of the story well. Though this journey through the progress of a dysfunctional family has been done many times before and even frequently using the protagonist as a novelist about to open the secrets of the family's lives to the world, this story take some significant alternative routes that make it more tender. The uses of flashbacks could have been better edited so that the audience is aware of when the character changes occur, and there are many unanswered questions about how each of these characters came to inhabit the human roles they present here. But given the fact that the audience must stay completely alert during this film in order to follow this at times meandering story, this is a worthy film. One wonders why the missing 33 minutes were not included in the American release (the film was made in 2007 and it seems as though it never played the theaters, going instead directly to DVD). With a cast of this caliber this should have been a popular film. But where did those missing pages take us?
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