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Fireflies in the Garden (2008)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 2/7/2012

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/31/2012

OK folks, gather 'round. We have got an extra special edition of "I know these people, why haven't I heard of this movie?" for you. I can't remember one of these films having a more prestigious and interesting cast than Fireflies in the Garden has. An Oscar winner, two Oscar nominees, and one of today's hottest stars appear in the film. The poster alone should have brought filmgoers into the theater. So why did this film only get a brief theatrical run four years after it was shot?

Fireflies in the Garden tells the story of the Taylor family. Michael Taylor (Ryan Reynolds) has come home for a family celebration, as his mother, Lisa Taylor (Julia Roberts), is graduating from college (after postponing her education). Michael is met at the airport by his younger sister, Ryne (Shannon Lucio). As they are on en route to the family home, they get devastating news. Their parents were also driving to the family celebration, with father Charles (Willlem Dafoe) at the wheel, when their cousin, Christopher (Chase Ellison), darted into the road, chasing a baseball. Charles swerves to miss him and crashes the car, killing Lisa. The joyous occasion suddenly becomes a somber one. Being back home and being forced to deal with his mother's legacy causes Michael to reflect on his childhood. He remembers what a cruel perfectionist his father was when little. He thinks about when his Aunt Jane (Hayden Panettiere), who was only slightly older than him, came to live with his family, and how they bonded. Now grown up, Michael's relationship with Jane (Emily Watson) is strained. As the family prepares for Lisa's funeral, they wonder if Michael should publish his new autobiographical novel.

Movies like Fireflies in the Garden, which have sat on the shelf for years before finally being released, often fall into one of two categories. Some run barely 80-minutes and feel as if they've been edited over and over again as the studio tried to fashion the footage into something which resembles a feature film. Others simply aren't that bad and you wonder what could have happened to keep them from getting a normal release.

Fireflies in the Garden (the title comes from a game where the family hunts fireflies with badminton racquets -- does PETA know about this?) falls somewhere in the middle. The above synopsis probably makes the movie sound fairly muddled, and, granted, a lot of story takes place in the movie, but it's actually much more straight-forward, as the scenes occurring in the present and the flashbacks never get confusing. Having said that, things do feel stitched-together at times. The film opens with a flashback and then takes place in the present for most of the first half. The flashbacks begin to illustrate what Michael's childhood had been like and we understand that. Still, they feel terribly random and haphazard, as if the editor said, "Let's put one in here."

Graded on a relative scale, the story in Fireflies in the Garden isn't bad, it just isn't original. There's nothing happening here to separate this from any other dysfunctional family story. No one here is happy and everyone has issues. But, that doesn't stop Writer/Director Dennis Lee from piling things on, as this becomes a "the recently deceased person was hiding a secret" movie. The characters bicker, the flashbacks are depressing, and there's no emotion in any of it. Which leads us to Fireflies in the Garden's biggest sin -- it's boring. This is one of those movies which you watch, but don't experience. From the outset, there is nothing to draw us into the story. We watch these characters interact and we simply don't care. The relationships are simple (simplistic?) enough and it all makes sense, but there's nothing interesting or unique about it.

So, what's the appeal of Fireflies in the Garden? Well, if you've ever wanted to see Green Goblin and Green Lantern go toe-to-toe, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise, you're going to see a movie in which a lot of familiar faces sleepwalk through a very familiar story. The question here has to be, "What drew these stars to this film?" Perhaps there was something in the original script which didn't make it to the screen. Whatever the case, the fireflies are the only bright spot in the film.

Fireflies in the Garden is one of those movies where an author gets books published with no apparent effort on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, althought there are some issues. Grain is kept to a minimum, but the picture lacks in detail at times. It's not really soft per se, but it looks flat and dull. The colors are OK, and the image is never overly dark or bright. Maybe I've gotten spoiled by Blu-ray Discs, but I wasn't bowled over by the video. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a drama, we don't get a ton of dynamic audio effects here, but there are a few. The score, although overused, sounds fine, as it fills the speakers. The rain in the opening scene offers some nicely detailed stereo and surround effects. There are some moments in which the front channel effects alert us to happenings off-screen.

The Fireflies in the Garden DVD contains only one extra feature. "A Flash of Life: The Making of Fireflies in the Garden" (19 minutes) contains on-set footage and comments from the cast and Lee. Lee talks about the origin of the story, while the actors talk about their experiences working with Lee. The actors then describe their characters, and discuss the themes in the film.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long