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Fireflies in the Garden
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Hayden Panettiere IS Emily Watson In "The Twig Of Dramatic Death"
1 stars

Once upon a time, no doubt while caught up in a round of Dueling Maxims, Leo Tolstoy famously opined that while all happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in their own way. Of course, if Tolstoy had lived long enough to witness the rise of the American independent film movement, which over the years has been chock-full of stories of unhappy families that all more or less resemble each other, he might have reconsidered this concept. He certainly would have done so after watching "Fireflies in the Garden," a long-delayed melodrama about multiple generations of familiar angst that is so achingly familiar and ploddingly executed that the only thing that most viewers will come away from it with, other than the profound desire to never again watch another film about privileged but emotionally bankrupt white people coming to terms with one another, will be a sense of bewilderment over how something so profoundly uninteresting and unexceptional could attract such talents as Julia Roberts, Emily Watson and Willem Dafoe to the cause of bringing it to life, no matter how barely they may have succeeded in that task when all is said and done.

Set in the present day, with extensive and progressively irritating flashbacks to about 20-odd years earlier, the films tells the grim and ugly story of the profoundly miserable Taylor family, in which patriarch Charles (Dafoe) is a cruel and domineering academic type who takes out his miseries over his largely undistinguished career on his son, Michael and wife Lisa (Roberts). In the flashbacks, mostly set during a period in time in which the three are joined by Lisa's much younger sister, Jane (Hayden Panettiere), Charles and Michael (played as a boy by Cayden Boyd) are constantly at loggerheads about everything with things coming to a head between them when the "original" poem that Michael recites before a group of his dad's colleagues turns out to be cribbed from the relatively little-known Robert Frost. In the present day, Michael (now played by Ryan Reynolds), now a reasonably successful author, has returned home for a family reunion to celebrate his mother's long-delayed graduation from college when tragedy strikes. Of course, this doesn't stop the continued backbiting between father and son and not even eternal peacemaker Jane (now played by Watson) is able to get them to knock it off, especially since Michael's latest manuscript is a thinly fictionalized account of their tortured lives.

The film marks the debut of writer-director Dennis Lee and the best thing that can be said about his efforts is that he has nowhere to go but up with his next effort. Although I understand that the screenplay was inspired by his own personal experiences, this can only mean that his life somehow managed to conform to every single element of the angst-ridden family drama subgenre because there is not a single moment on display here that feels as if it came from anyplace other than an explosion at the cliche factory. The storyline is trite, the characters and their problems are profoundly uninteresting and the observations about family ties and how they bind and choke offer absolutely nothing of value. In addition, Lee further overloads his already fragile narrative with so many characters--including Michael's estranged wife (Carrie-Anne Moss), Lisa's hunky professor (Ioan Gruffudd) and Jane's own husband and troubled kids--that Lee seems to be spending most of his time directing traffic than the story. And just in case things weren't muddled enough as is, the constant shifting between past and present is handled so badly that it adds absolutely nothing to the proceedings except to illustrate what "Tree of Life" might have been like if it had been made by someone with absolutely no clue as to what they were doing.

The single most impressive thing about "Fireflies in the Garden" is the fact that Lee managed to get such good actors to sign on for the kind of project that even no-name actors might have rejected outright based on the quality of the material. Either they must have all owed him a favor or twelve or he has a Lamont Cranston-like ability to cloud the minds of otherwise intelligent men and women and yes, I am even including Ryan Reynolds in that equation. Maybe they did it under the assumption that it would never actually been seen and if that were the case, they must have been exceptionally chagrined to discover that the film, which originally debuted at the Berlin Film Festival way back in 2008, was finally slinking off the shelf for what is sure to be an exceptionally brief theatrical run. Other than that, there are only two minor saving graces on display. One is a scene between the young Michael and Jane where they demonstrate exceptionally good taste in favorite baseball players. The other comes at the end when Lee hits upon an image that will bring cheers from any viewers who have somehow managed to make it all the way to the bitter end without fleeing. If only he had come up with that idea at an earlier point, say just before the beginning of production, my guess is that everyone involved would have gone home a lot happier for it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18356&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/13/11 22:21:06
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  14-Oct-2011 (R)
  DVD: 07-Feb-2012


  DVD: 07-Feb-2012

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