Fireflies in the Garden Dir. Dennis Lee

[Kulture Machine; 2011]

Styles: drama
Others: the script I wrote my freshman year of college about my senior year of high school

I don’t want to knock Fireflies in the Garden too hard because it was conceived after and revolves around the death of writer/director Dennis Lee’s mother. But respect for loss and grief shouldn’t preclude clear-eyed reflection on poor representations of loss and grief. Only I don’t see it as my responsibility to provide such reflection, because Fireflies premiered at the Berlin IFF on February 10, 2008 and was panned by critics on May 29, 2009. What follows is a series of review blurbs from Rotten Tomatoes interspersed with my own observations.

• “A sickly sweet family drama stuffed with exceptionally high-profile performers — so much so that they threaten to overwhelm it just by their presence.” (Andrew Pulver, Guardian)

The film opens with helicopter shots of a Midwestern landscape in alternation with details of a clock. The clock’s there because half the film is in flashback, but it might as well be there because the film feels interminable even at 88 minutes. (Note: the Berlin IFF runtime was 120 minutes.)

• “…it’s saddled with too many characters…” (Tom Huddlestone, Time Out)

The film’s winding path through various open wounds concludes with Lee’s avatar (Reynolds) burning his recently completed semi-autobiographical manuscript, “Fireflies in the Garden,” in the fireplace. Why didn’t Lee burn his script?

• “And with at least four sob stories competing for space, characters are left dangling like untied shoelaces…” (Ali Catterall, Film 4)

While the film doesn’t have its own website, it does have a Facebook page with a poll, “Who are you most excited to see in the film?” While 10 people voted for Willem Dafoe, Ryan Reynolds won with 33 votes. Julia Robert [sic] got 6; Ryan Gosling and Gerard Butler (neither of whom are in the film) tied Hayden Panettiere with 3.

• “A resolutely middlebrow dysfunctional family melodrama, it’s one of those tediously self-congratulatory movies that projects an unearned air of superiority simply because it’s not another slam-bang summer blockbuster.” (Alistair Harkness, Scotsman)

4,788 people “like” Fireflies in the Garden on Facebook, and I can imagine that approximately 4,700 of those people are separated from the cast and crew by no more than two degrees.

• “Julia Roberts, Willem Dafoe and Emily Watson are strictly slumming it in this saccharine melodrama.” (Kevin Maher, Times)

We were assured when the official trailer was posted that “[n]ot only is it going to showcase some great acting, but clearly it’s going to bring out some emotions in all of us!” Is befuddlement an emotion?

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