DVD Review - Fireflies in the Garden

Ryan Reynolds in
"Fireflies in the Garden"
In many ways, this movie reminded me of my favorite film of 2011, The Tree of Life. Writer-director Dennis Lee, inspired by a Robert Frost poem, doesn't quite have Terrence Malick's vision, but there are moments here that reach for it. One big difference is that Lee gives his actors more dialogue, but both films center around a character dealing with a huge loss in his family. Both films are set in Texas and both feature an adult and a prepubescent boy playing the same character. Whereas Malick is more concerned with the past, Lee is more concerned with the present.

That character dealing with the huge loss is Michael Taylor. Ryan Reynolds plays Michael at age thirty-something. Cayden Boyd plays Michael at age 13 or so. The movie flashes back and forth between the two ages, revealing what life was like for Michael before the loss and after the loss. Specifically, it reveals the relationship Michael has with his father before that loss and after it. The father-son relationship is key in The Tree of Life, but is more pronounced here.

Willem Dafoe plays Charlie Taylor, Michael's father. Julia Roberts plays Lisa Taylor, Charlie's wife and Michael's mother. When we first see Charlie and Lisa, they're arguing. From the opening of the film to the final scene between Charlie and Lisa, that does not change. They're constantly arguing or at odds with one another, particularly with how Michael should be raised. This makes Michael anxious. Arguments over how to raise the eldest son comes up in The Tree of Life as well.

Fireflies in the Garden premiered internationally in 2008, so it's not ripping off The Tree of Life. It didn't get a theatrical release in the United States until the fall of 2011, so Malick didn't rip anything off either. The two films just naturally have these similarities between them. What marks Malick's film is that it's essentially a collection of moments, individual moments that don't really add up to any kind of narrative but that paints a definitive picture. Lee's film is also a collection of moments. Yet, Lee does try to wrap those moments around a more cohesive narrative, but that narrative is ultimately unnecessary. The individual moments more than sell it.

Those individual moments work because the actors in them make them work. Reynolds who has had trouble finding ultimate success does a good job here. Boyd who plays young Michael is effective as well. Along with Dafoe and the women against whom he's pitted, including Emily Watson and Hayden Panettiere who both play the role of Aunt Jane Lawrence at various ages are also effective. Ioan Gruffudd who plays Addison, a co-worker of Charlie, and, Carrie-Anne Moss who plays Kelly, Michael's ex-wife, are effective in their small roles too.

If this movie is illustrating a point, it's illustrating how relationships change as people go from being a child to having a child and how your relationships with people can often inverse themselves once that responsibility of a child enters the equation.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language and some sexual content.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.


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