To an outsider, the Taylors are the very picture of the successful American family: Charles (Willem Dafoe) is a tenured professor on track to become university president, son Michael (Ryan Reynolds) is a prolific and well-known romance novelist, daughter Ryne (Shannon Lucio) is poised to enter a prestigious law school, and on the day we are introduced to them, matriarch Lisa (Julia Roberts) will graduate from college—decades after leaving to raise her children. But when a serious accident interrupts the celebration, the far more nuanced reality of this Midwestern family’s history and relationships come to light.
A first feature film for writer-director Dennis Lee, Fireflies in the Garden
is a powerful work about the complexity of family relationships. The star-studded cast includes Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson, Julia Roberts, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hayden Panettiere. Through a series of flashbacks, the story reveals that the outwardly perfect Taylor family hides many secrets--the most pivotal being the strained and psychologically abusive relationship between tenure-track professor and father Charles (Dafoe) and his "different" son Michael (Reynolds). Michael's sister Ryne (Shannon Lucio) and aunt Jane (Watson) have also had difficult childhoods, but as an adult returning home for a family celebration, Michael carries a lot of psychological baggage from his childhood. When a sudden accident strips the dysfunctional family of one of its key members, each of them must come to terms with their relationships with one another. Their individual journeys of grief and acceptance are emotional, confusing, and sometimes unrealistic, but always heartfelt. In the end, each family member learns that life is a balancing act, perfection is a myth, and memories are selective. --Tami Horiuchi