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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? Grady Harp, February 12
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on May 24, 2016
This is a terrible film. The title, which sounds delightful, refers to the protagonists gleefully slaughtering the said insect population on summer nights. (Apparently, fireflies explode like fireworks when swatted with a tennis racquet.) The massacre scene is the only time in the film when the characters are happy -- maniacally so. The rest of the movie is about the miserable lives of odious people. The main character remembers unfair and borderline abusive moments from his childhood throughout the film as he plays out his adult resentment of his father in the present. The problem is that the man is a supreme jerk. He was a brat as a kid and he is a creep as an adult. There is not one character who is sympathetic. The father is abusive, the mother is a doormat, the assorted other relatives are all horrible people. This movie has a stellar cast and I hated them all. Who green-lit this bit of rubbish? Save yourself the agony of trying to figure that out by avoiding this debacle.
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on January 31, 2012
These are times in which movie audiences are subjected to extreme doses of special effects, action, animation, violence, sex and the like. And, in each category, the moviemakers are trying to outdo each other, in terms of being more innovative. So it is an immense risk to make old-fashioned dramas, not necessary romantic, but about life's daily struggles. Despite all the trends, they still need to be made, as to document our times. The very engaging "Fireflies in Garden" does just that: it is a painful and passionate look at a given modern family, like many others in this crazy planet.

Right at the beginning of the film, we meet Michael Taylor (Ryan Reynolds, in a well-acted dramatic role), a successful writer that is on his way to his hometown to celebrate his mother Lisa's (Julia Roberts) graduation from college. Michael is kind of hard to read or understand, and you can feel that for some reason he is unwillingly going back home. Once he arrives to his hometown, tragedy strikes, and what was supposed to be a happy celebration turns into an incredibly sad occasion. Once in the house, facing the harsh reality in his life, he is sadly taken to his past and his relationship with his disturbingly strict father Charles (Willem Dafoe), a successful college professor of literature, who is being groomed to be the president of his prestigious teaching institution. Michael also has to re-examine his bonds with his sister Ryne (Shannon Lucio), and his aunt Jane (Emily Watson).

Well-directed by Dennis Lee, "Fireflies in Garden" is about how the past defines the present, and the struggles that we have to endure to accept it. It goes right to the heart and I'm glad that I watched it. The DVD includes a making-of documentary. (USA, 2007, color, 89 min plus additional materials)

Reviewed on January 30, 2012 exclusively by Eric Gonzalez for Sony Pictures.
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on September 20, 2012
This is one of those sleeper high quality films except it probably won't get noticed terribly in DVD sales simply because it doesn't have explosions, isn't a rom-com and wasn't recommended by the Academy Awards. It's too bad because there's a lot of high quality acting and wonderful tone setting in this family drama.

Tale focuses upon a romance novelist reflecting on his abusive time as a child in which his father verbally and physically abused him and put him through "torture" when he was displeased with the boy. Now, after the death of his mother, he has to face his father's anger as well as all of the other dysfunctional family members. He's got a novel written that is about his life growing up and basically lays out all the family dirt and he's trying to decide whether to get it published or not.

There's a bittersweet taste to this film. At times you laugh, at times you feel like you just got hit in the gut and other times you feel people are going to work out their differences. It's one of those films that tries to reflect real life so sometimes there are no happy and complete resolutions but for myself I left the picture feeling satisfied with the delivery. It's nice to see a film every now and then that admits things aren't always resolved like a fairy tale. That's called fantasy, people. That said, I felt the main character worked things out just not in a Pollyanna manner.

There's an all star cast here, including several who took supporting roles: Willem Dafoe, Julia Roberts, Carrie-Ann Moss, Emily Watson, Ryan Reynolds, Hayden Panettiere and Ioan Gruffud.

The budget for this picture was $8M (which tells me a lot of big names took pay cuts to work on a project they believe in) but it only made a bit over $3M at the Box Office. We'll see if it does better in DVDs and residuals.

Written and directed by Dennis Lee. Some say his tale is autobiographical. Note that the movie was edited and seems to be missing over 20 minutes so their may be a director's cut at a later point.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: B plus to A minus; STORY/PLOTTING/EDITING: B plus; CHARACTERS/DIALOGUE: A minus; THEMES/FAMILY FOCUSES: B plus to A minus; WHEN WATCHED: mid September 2012; OVERALL GRADE: B plus to A minus.
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on April 9, 2016
There are too many dramas about dysfunctional relationships that are full of cliches, and force emotion down the throats of viewers, trying too hard to be profound and poignant. The are ultimately exhausting to watch, and by the time the message comes around, if there is a clear message, no one cares. This little gem is not one of those dramas. This is several steps above that... expertly written and acted, never manipulative or trite. It deals with the terrible pain a childhood of emotional abuse leaves, the many people who could have helped and never found the courage, and more importantly, how an adult overcomes the memories and fury it leaves..
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on March 31, 2016
This movie tells the story that feels REAL about an abusive family and the effects across generations. It helps me to cry and remember, but also to see a family that begins to heal. Excellent film and well acted! Strongly recommend.
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on June 10, 2012
I just finished watching this movie. I liked it a lot. I was disappointed that Julia Roberts didn't have more time, as I think they should have more of her story line in the movie, but otherwise, I thought it was a good movie.
If you grew up in a totally normal, functional family, you probably will not connect with this movie and think it IS a horrible movie. If so, consider yourselves blessed then and watch a different movie. I had dysfunction in mine, so I could identify with all the characters and their feelings (and cried a few tears in places). I personally liked the ending. There is only so many ways you can end a movie like this, and I thought the ending said it all. All in all, well worth the rental fee!
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on June 27, 2016
This movie is intensely emotional, but the characters have so much depth. So many great actors in this independent film. Ryan Reynolds does a wonderful job portraying an estranged son forced to come back to his family because of a death. I was pulling for him as he worked through the pain that had caused his separation. I originally rented it, but decided this is one film I would want to own and see more than once.
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on February 17, 2014
The product was in excellent condition and arrived WAY sooner than I was expecting. The movie itself brought up some anxiety-ridden feelings. The dad was too much like my ex husband. I was not expecting that. The ending was not expected. It took me a little bit to figure out what was really going on in the movie, a little confusing but with the ending and the way it happened, made for a very good movie in my opinion....
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on September 7, 2013
when you were a kid , you knew a kid just like Michael who had a dad just like Charles. They are like fine tuned instruments,playing off of one another as a son and father,with that love hate relationship. Ryan Reynolds as Michael, Willem Dafoe as Charles, who most of the time I wanted to strangle for his love of self,and not his son,wife or anyone else in his life. Ryan Reynolds looks amazing with the beard and the glasses and the brown eyes that actually look tortured. You buy into this family,because as I wrote first,you knew (or might now know) one like this. There is some language that I wish hadn't been added,but they haven't learned what works like the KENDRICK BROTHERS have. Julia Roberts really is pregnant in this movie. She always has that tired look in her films,and as a woman you know she has to be pregnant in real life. Indeed in this she is and it is perfect for the scene she uses with Michael. I honestly think that this movie heals men who had dads like Michael does in this movie. Where daughters can cry,sons are not usually allowed to. I would recommend this movie because it doesn't hurt for anyone no matter our walks in life,to have a look at someone elses,even if it hurts. And the fireflies in the garden is an absolutely great touch.
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