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I was lucky enough to see an early screening of "Fireflies in the Garden" and it was great. While there were several stand out performances--Julia Roberts, Cayden Boyd, Hayden Panettiere...I have to say Ryan Reynolds is the one that really got me. First of all this is not one of his usual roles. Secondly, while his incredible comedic timing added lightness at appropriate moments and depth to his character's struggles, it was the open access to his heart that really moved me. Third of all...I don't really have a point but, now I'm a FAN! Um, I ended up crying quite a bit watching this movie. It's great! I hope it's released soon.
I agree with Raj Doctor, although I would rate the film higher.
The film was released in Russia with little publicity and became lost in the summer blockbusters. Without revealing information, the acting is excellent. The story is very indeed very realistic. If you find realism boring, then this is not a film for you.
The final third of the film, however, is missing. I have read that at the Berlin Film Festival, where the film premiered, it was announced to be 2 hours long, but the version in Russia is missing 20 minutes. Because the ending felt rushed while the rest of it was very well controlled, I cannot help but believe that this time was taken out of the final act. It's a shame really, because it could have been a great film. As it is, it is still a very good film that I recommend for the patient viewer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The movie was released with little publicity and it seems to be running
with a low profile in Amsterdam.
The story is about a writer Michael (Ryan Reynolds) who is about to finish his first autobiographical novel and he has come to attend the funeral of his mother Lisa's (Julia Roberts) death, who has a tormenting marriage with her husband Charles (Willem Dafoe) who is also abusive to his son Michael. The story goes back and forth with flashbacks and evolving relationship between Michael and Charles. There is a sub-plot of Michael and Lisa's sister Jane's (Emily Watson) childhood affair and Michael's relationship with Jane's son who feels isolated. In the end there is a get feel understanding between father and son. The movie ends there.
The movie is good, but could have had been great. Ryan Reynolds looks fantastic, but Willem Dafoe steals the show with the negative role of father. Julia Roberts fits well in her small cameo as mother. While Emily Watson is good.
The Director Dennis Lee has strong script and story line, but does not bring about the required finishing touch to the movie. The cinematography is excellent. The editing between current and flashback is very well handled. The movie was inspired from a poem (with the same name) written by Robert Frost and co-written by the Director Dennis Lee.
Those people who have suffered child abuse by their disciplinary fathers would surely identify with the characters and may have tender moments that may make them cry.
The movie does not become too heavy on the audience even though there are a few disturbing scenes.
(Stars 6.5 out of 10)
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?
Fireflies in the Garden (2008) **1/2
The problem with movies about dysfunctional families is the same one that spy movies have: they're a dime a dozen, and rarely offer anything new. Wes Anderson has made dysfunction his specialty. Noah Baumbach's Squid and the Whale was also a very good film about dysfunctional families, as is Jonathan Demme's new film Rachael Getting Married. Dennis Lee's feature length debut, Fireflies in the Garden is a technically well made film. It looks good, it sounds good. Lee is a sound director. But good direction can't always save a flat script. That's the problem with the movie. It offers nothing new into an already crowded genre.
I suspect that the film's script must have looked quite good. After all, it netted a slew of stars - Ryan Reynolds, Emily Watson, Willem Defoe, Hayden Panettiere, Iaon Gruffud, and Julia Roberts. Reynolds stars as as Michael Waechter, the son of a self absorbed intellectual jerk, Charles (Dafoe). His mother is Lisa (Roberts). The film goes back and forth in time, between Michael's childhood and present day. While on the way to Rhyne, the daughter's graduation party, Charles and Lisa get into a car accident while trying to avoid Christopher, Lisa's nephew. Lisa is killed.
This sets up situations and complications to bring everyone together so they can argue and bicker, and of course, eventually reconcile. As the family gathers at the old family home, where Jane (Watson in the present, Panattiere in the past) now lives, old feelings are drudged over, and while going through their mother's things, Michael discovers a secret about his mother.
Robert's and Watson play caring mothers. Lisa is passive, maybe too passive. Why she allows Charles to get away with some of the cruel things he does to the young Michael are confounding.
Meanwhile, the film also glosses over the relationship between Jane and Michael, who are roughly the same age. That relationship is almost incestuous, although Lee never dares to fully delve into it. Everyone does solid work with their roles. Again a part of the technical solidity of the film. It's just that the story is too familiar, too flat. In the end, Dafoe has some moments of depth, and Reynolds gives a strong and layered performance. Otherwise, the script doesn't take enough time to flesh out its characters.
Sure Michael has every reason to hate his father. He's a jerk, unabashedly so. The story needs to be maybe flushed out more, or maybe way less. There are stories enough for about three movies here. The plot line regarding young Christopher, who feels tremendous guilt over Lisa's death is enough for a film of this length. But there are so many other stories going on that it gets only limited time.
There are some other small nitpicks that can be made. First, none of the kids look like their adult counterparts. That would be fine in a better movie, but here it's something you pick out. Second, although the film is set somewhere outside Chicago, it feels like somewhere in the south. Probably because it was shot in and around Texas.
Based on a script that floated around Hollywood for sometime before getting financed, Fireflies in the Garden has floated around looking for a release since its debut back at the Berlin Film Festival. It's reported that the film will get a release come November. I suspect it will be limited, and suspect that it won't stick around theaters for long. Robert's might attract a few patrons to the multiplexes, but I wouldn't count on this one to make a big splash with anyone. I'm sure Lee has better in him.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
How many percent of the earth is populated by writers? And does the
same ratio count for the figments of imagination that inhabit our
little screen? How many writers use their work to conquer their demons,
usually to get rid of the grenade fragments left over from growing up
in a dysfunctional family? Michael Waechter just finished his latest
novel; serious literature. A merciless word storm, written in pure
gall, a not to be misunderstood way of slaying his demon namely his
terror-prone father. Previously only occupying himself with sugar sweet
love tales, this indicates a radical change in Michael's authorial
style as well as in his way of dealing with his troubled existence.
This is where the characters' journeys start, for our protagonist it's a search for a way of forgiving his father, his path is ridden with the verbalizing of a ton of words unsaid too long and energetic arguments, as the audience gets sucked in further and further the - in the beginning only skin-deep - dramatic tension mounts. The picture uses it's runtime skilfully, the development of the 'original' characters occupies nearly all scenes, once in a while the director permits us a small pause to catch our breath and reflect upon what just went on. The new generation (children Christopher and Leslie) clearly are being presented to us as a reincarnation of Michael and his young ante Jane, of who it's fair to say they grew up close enough to almost be brother and sister - the unmistakable physical resemblance alone says enough. The only significant difference is the nature of fathers, they have the luck of having a loving, gentler father who unfortunately is away a lot on business, where as Michael's father is the hard, domineering type, the kind of father who maybe loves his family a little too much to be healthy for him, or his family for that matter.
Herein eventually lies the human quality of the character and the redemption. Hereby we can wholeheartedly accept - even though it appeared not to be true for a very long time - Michael forgiving his father, which culminates in a catharsis-classic: the burning of his newborn baby book in the fireplace, and we can even rejoice in Michael regaining personal freedom.
Now, for those who are not convinced the father deserves being forgiven, that's not really the core of it all. The point is this: even deeply rooted hate, however justified, has to be overcome in order to be happy. Hate is so powerful it can and will easily consume the one who holds the grudge and it often destroy families. In my opinion the whole film is centered around Christopher, in order to save the child's still pure soul, Michael is forced to take that last, hard step towards full maturity.
A simple movie? Maybe. Simplistic? Absolutely not. Above everything else, this movie is oh so full of truth and genuine emotion.
I watched this movie at the Berlin Film Festival and I have to admit
that I was surprised by Ryan Reynolds. He can play the dramatic role(s)
as you can see him do here ...
His performance anchors the movie and although we have other great actors here too, he is the one that leads us into and through the story. You won't be surprised to hear/read that the story is semi-auto-biographical. It is that deep and it goes into his characters. Having said that, William Dafoe is somewhat of a show-stealer too. Although I do think he could have been a bit better sketched (yes OK he's defined by a real human, but it feels more like a restriction to me). All in all, a drama with occasional light moments in an overall dark story.
I watched this movie on DVD and I confess that I rented reluctantly this movie. However, I had a pleasant surprise, the story is about a boy who in his adult version is played by Ryan Reynolds with serious relationship problems with his father (William Dafoe). I am really surprise with Ryan Reynolds performance, also the young Michael with play Cayden Boyd. The whole story in one way or another turn around the problem of relationship between both. The movie uses well the flashback resource to show the problems of this family and especially the problems between Michael and his father. Naturally, there are good interpretations of the rest of the cast especially for Emily Watson(Michael's Aunt). A movie that really is worth watching.
Dennis Lee adapts Frost's poem with the same title. With such a big names associated with it, I wonder why 'Fireflies in the Garden' never got a US theatrical release. It is a well executed film. Danny Moder's cinematography is breathtaking and Javier Navarrete's score is superb. The story has an interesting premise but it needed fleshing out. It looks patchy at times. The casting is also a little awkward. Emily Watson and Hayden Panettiere are too different to play the same character convincingly and this was difficult for me to overlook. That said, Panettiere was quite decent and Watson is first rate but she deserved more screen time (and her character, the older Jane, needed more fleshing out). Ditto for Julia Roberts who, despite of a small role, has a strong presence throughout the entire film. I find her character's actions questionable. For example why does she choose to leave her husband when he cheats on her while all those years she stays with him when he's abusing their son? Ryan Reynolds shows growth as an actor. He displayed maturity in 'Definitely, Maybe' and seems to be going the right way as an actor. Willem Dafoe too does a terrific job from being the hateful father to being the softer old man but I would have liked to see more of the transformation in Charles because on the one hand he is shown to be a loving father (as shown in the home video) but on the other hand he doesn't seem to have changed much (the scene in the car when they're on their way to visit Jane and his temper at the dinner table). The director could have shown more of Lisa and Charles during their later years. I also liked Cayden Boyd's performance. Ioan Gruffudd and Carrie-Anne Moss do not have more than a couple of scenes. 'Fireflies in the Garden' seems like a well intentioned movie but it appears too rushed and patchy to fully involve the viewer. It needed more than 95 minutes of screen time. The visuals, soundtrack and performances make it a decent watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fireflies in The Garden was panned by basically everyone. The dysfunctional family story took three years to be released on DVD which is astounding considering the enormous strength of this cast. Many reviewers all say the same thing that movies like this are a dime a dozen and that might be true. That doesn't this cast and this film any less captivating. Perhaps part of the issue that many see in this movie is that it is in no way packaged in a neat little box with sunshine and rainbows. This is a very dark drama about a very messed up family and there isn't a happily ever after for them. If you can handle a dark drama then you will be rewarded with some terrific performances. Ryan Reynolds shines in his role as the grown up son who has many emotional problems because of a verbally abusive father. That father is played with excellent force by Willem Dafoe. Obviously playing a villain type character is not new for Dafoe but his character is so pathetic, with so much depth, you will just despise him and beg for his redemption much like his family does. Emily Watson is sort of ho-hum compared to the rest of the cast. Once you've accepted that Hayden Panettiere somehow grew up to look like Emily Watson...she also loses all her passion for the role. Panettiere is much better as the younger Jane in the movie. Julia Roberts is good in her role though she isn't used all that much and sort of takes a more ceremonious role in the movie. People are always clamouring for Hollywood to do something unique and I give a lot of credit to first time writer and director Dennis Lee for not making everything neat and tidy. Sometimes you can be in the mood for a dark drama and some solid performances makes this one captivating. Ignore the harsh reviews and give it a chance! 8/10
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