Unwitty, unclear, downbeat…not unlike many family reunions

Fireflies in the Garden

on April 23, 2009 by Richard Mowe
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Although it has a starry cast, including Julia Roberts and Willem Dafoe, this dysfunctional family drama is too convoluted and disjointed to win many admirers—and the word of mouth is not likely to be upbeat. As tales of troubled families go, it may have aspirations to be like Ordinary People, but it falls way short. Box office results will not match up to its stellar promise.

Perhaps first-time writer/director Dennis Lee felt he had to get out of his system this tale of family strife, which seems to have been more than a little semi-autobiographical. Now that he’s vented his demons, this Academy Award-winning director of the short Jesus Henry Christ might be able to progress to more satisfying material.
The trouble with laying bare the emotions of such unsympathetic characters is that you alienate the viewer. Add in awkward time jumps between past and present that are not always obvious, and you have the recipe for narrative confusion. The script also lacks wit and insight which gives such players as Dafoe, Watson, Roberts and Reynolds little to work with.

The Taylors, at least looking in from the outside, seem to be the epitome of the successful American family. Charles (Willem Dafoe) is a tenured professor on track to become University President. His son Michael (Ryan Reynolds) is a prolific and well-known novelist while daughter Ryne (Shannon Lucio) is poised to enter a prestigious law school.

Matriarch Lisa (Julia Roberts) is about to complete her own studies that she gave up in order to look after the children. Her uncritical love for everyone has helped to bind the family together through the rough times. As Michael travels back to his small town in the Mid-West after a long absence, he feels relatively contented. Before he arrives, however, his mother is involved in a tragic car accident and old family arguments come rushing to the surface as the family prepares for her funeral.

Charles is not just an ambitious professor; he is also an extremely domineering father and a control freak verging on the psychotic. Michael’s long-buried memories surface—and finally he has to confront his past and the father his mother did so much to protect him from.

There is a certain fascination in watching this family on the brink of disintegration as a result of internalized grudges, disappointments and mutual accusations, but it is not an easy ride.

Distributor: Senator Entertainment
Cast: Julia Roberts, Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Ioan Gruffudd, Hayden Panettiere and Cayden Boyd
Director/Screenwriter: Dennis Lee
Producers: Marco Weber, Vanessa Coifman and Sukee Chew
Genre: Drama
Rating: R for language and some sexual content
Running time: 99 min
Release date: June 26 ltd.

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